How facial recognition software works

Authored by a Symantec employee


If you’ve uploaded pictures to Facebook recently, you might have noticed that it has the uncanny ability to recognize people's faces. This is just one example of high-tech facial recognition software in action. Here’s what you need to know about this emerging technology.

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How Facial Recognition Software Works

You’ve never given much thought to how you recognize a face, and probably even less to how a computer would do it. Still, it’s not news that human faces have certain qualities you recognize. The spacing of eyes on a face, the position and width of a nose, the shape of a hairline and chin -- these are all things that you unconsciously use to recognize someone’s face. A computer, however, can do this with reasonable efficiency precisely because when you put all of these metrics together, you get a mathematical formula for what someone looks like.

So how good is facial recognition software? Pretty good, but they’re still working out the kinks. If you have facial recognition software enabled on Facebook or another social media platform, you’ve probably noticed that it offers nearly as many comical results as accurate ones. Still, while the technology might not be 100 percent, it’s good enough. That raises some serious privacy concerns.

Why You Should Be Concerned About Facial Recognition Software

First and foremost, facial recognition software is data. As such, it can be collected and stored, often without the permission of the person in question. Once the information is collected and stored it’s open to being hacked. Platforms with facial recognition software haven't been the subject of major hacks yet, but as facial recognition technology spreads, your biometrics are going to be in the hands of more and more people.

There are also issues of ownership involved. Most people don’t know that when they sign up for social media platforms like Facebook, there’s some claim of ownership on the data that you give to Facebook. When it comes to pictures of you, once facial recognition software really starts breaking out and there are lots of companies collecting and collating this data, you might not even have to upload your images to the Internet to become compromised. Pictures of you on other people’s accounts or even in newspapers can be aggregated and sold to the highest bidder.

How You Can Protect Yourself

The problem with facial recognition software and privacy is that a lot of the usual safeguards don’t apply. You can’t change your face and even the sands of time aren’t going to do much to alter facial recognition software’s ability to identify you. Criminals have been identified by the FBI using facial recognition software and images of them taken nearly 20 years ago.

So what can you do? First of all, you can opt out of facial recognition technology on most social media platforms. This means that, at the very least, they won’t be aggregating your facial biometrics. Once you’ve done that, you can lock down your social media so that they can only be seen by your friends. This will prevent spiders and other programs that crawl the web looking for data from collecting your information.

Beyond that, your only real tactic for privacy is to wear a mask or some kind of concealing makeup when you’re in public. Facial recognition software is soon going to become prevalent in the public sphere. Barring new privacy legislation, there’s only so much you can do to protect yourself.

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