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It's time to face the ugly reality of face recognition

Mike Elgan | March 20, 2017
The use of A.I. to recognise faces is growing fast. Here's why you should be worried about your personal privacy

Pictures of faces are easy to connect to names. Once you have someone's name, you can usually find their home address, a list of their relatives, their phone number and other data.

This is what the fake Facezam claimed to be able to do. But I'll show you how to do it without Facezam. It takes less than three minutes and costs nothing to find a home address based on nothing but a photo.

Mike Elgan. The Russian face recognition site FindFace is a perfect tool for creepy stalkers. It's also useful for discovering that other people on Twitter are using your profile picture.

Here's how it's done:

  1. Upload a picture of somebody's face to FindFace, a Russian face-recognition site.
  2. FindFace will give you the search result of multiple Twitter accounts. Find the correct Twitter account, and it will tell you the person's name.
  3. Copy and paste the name into a site called Family Tree Now. That will probably give you that person's home address, family members, age and other data.

You may now have a 100% positive ID on a person, which can be used to find out almost anything about them by searching government records, criminal records and the like.

Of course, this system isn't perfect. This trick might work less than half the time for a variety of reasons. (Some people don't have Twitter accounts, for example, or don't use their real photo or name on Twitter. And Family Tree Now may give you many people with the same name.)

But if you try this system with several photos of the same person, or for several people, some of them will likely work.

The solution, you might think, would be to delete or obscure your Twitter account. And given what I just told you, that would be a reasonable thing to do.

But I showed you this method only to bring home the reality of face recognition in a visceral way. FindFace represents a relatively minor risk compared to what's coming over the next few years.


Your face in photos

Another easy example is Google Photos. Just click here; this is the Google Photos "people" view. It demonstrates how Google automatically runs face recognition on all your photos, and groups pictures of people together. By clicking on any face, you'll see all the pictures of that person.

The most amazing fact about Google Photos is that anyone can add a name to each collection of photos.

That means anyone you know who has both taken your picture and who uses Google Photos can label that gallery of pictures with your name, thus telling Google's massive face recognition database who you are. (As someone with a tech-oriented family and who's active on Google+, I would guess that hundreds of people have connected my face to my name in Google's system.)


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