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Facial Recognition – Facebook Shows Its True Face

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It’s your face. Don’t let Facebook tell you otherwise.

Perhaps it was always about creating a big book of people’s faces.  But it certainly seems like Facebook’s latest attempt to control the ‘social graph’ of the entire planet is the ultimate emblem of its profoundly amoral, conscience-free, pursuit-of-profit megalomania. The idea that you can post a picture and that everyone in it is tagged for future ‘sharing purposes’ crosses the line in a way none of its past transgressions has even approached. But like all the others, it’s pretty clever; incremental and insidious, rather than explosive and egregious. As with all efficiently spreading viruses, Facebook is stealthy and surreptitious in it encroachment and colonization. It feeds on that very human social impulse that we all to a greater or lesser extent share (no pun intended).  And as such, its parasitic reach is almost universal.

The fears that Facebook’s facial recognition technology (and its wily pre-set that one is automatically opted in rather than out) are a threat to personal privacy is a little off-target. What’s really in play here is the right to control one’s identity in the public space. Simply put, a Facebook user who either doesn’t know, appear to care or doesn’t understand how to opt-out of the system, can have their identity utilized without their permission. It doesn’t take much imagination to see why this could be a gross violation of one’s identity and publicity rights. To make matters worse the chances that the technology is foolproof are almost nil, so cases of mistaken identity, many of them likely to be deeply compromising will be rife.

One can imagine, down the line, that Facebook could be facing a massive class action publicity rights lawsuit, as millions of people are wronged either by having their identities revealed at a given place and time against their wishes, or worse, being mistaken as someone they’d rather not be.  Facebook will no doubt retreat to their usual ‘we’ll make it better’ recourse of changing the privacy settings to Facial Recognition is opt-in, but if lives have been materially affected in a negative way, the company’s “there we changed the settings” scam will not make real-life problems caused by the technology go away. If we’re lucky, they’ll have to pay through the nose to settle.

Perhaps, finally, this move towards appropriation of humanity’s social space will be the hubristic moment that we realize Facebook is indeed another of the ‘super-bugs’ (like Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft) that infests the world today. That may be wishful thinking, but Facebook’s imperialist move with Facial Recognition certainly represents a risk for them, however (sadly) small, that they will be exposed as the conscience-free carpetbaggers that they truly are.

To a company like Facebook, with two-thirds of a billion members, individuality is not exactly top of their list of priorities. And with membership being – of necessity – free, it’s always been a numbers game for them. They can only make money if people use the site, and that means lowering rather than raising boundaries. Or to put it another way, in the case of those notoriously obfuscated privacy settings, raising boundaries to people raising their own boundaries.

Privacy is the catch-all term that Facebook fears most, and certainly the news that the site according to some reports shrank in its core US market by 6m subscribers over the last few months is instructive. People in America, after all, are imbued with a deep sense of the sanctity of privacy. Indeed its a constitutional right, at least in the eighteenth century meaning of the word.

Regardless of the constitutional implications, the Duke of Asperger, Mark Zuckerberg, tells us that privacy is overrated, and to an extent he’s right. It is. Privacy as we know it is a modern construct. The only place one truly has a right to privacy or at least an expectation of it (the two are often conflated) is within the walls of one’s home, and within the home, behind the door of one’s bathroom, and bedroom. In every other sphere, one can not guarantee one’s anonymity and the security of communications, nor should anyone expect it. And for the most part, the privacy that most of us appear to cherish is not at threat. Nobody really cares about the content of our emails. Most of them are really dull.

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg’s case against privacy, for all its apparent modernity, is completely disingenuous. It has nothing to do with a historical re-accounting of the role of privacy in the modern world, and everything to do with cold hard cash. You see, if you’re a social media site, like Facebook, that earns its money from advertising, reach-driven partnerships, and data mining, privacy is very bad for business. More privacy equals less page views which equal lower revenues and profits.

It’s unlikely that the Facial Recognition spat will be the death of Facebook in particular and the cult of the narcissist in general. But what it does do, in a small but perhaps significant way, is to bubble up the bile of a few too many opinion formers for Facebook’s liking. Perhaps then, the zeitgeist will turn against Facebook, and that 6m subscriber loss in the US will turn into 60 million and then more. One can only hope.

Please share this via Facebook to help sow the seeds of its own destruction from within.

Written by coolrebel

June 13, 2011 at 10:40 am

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