10 years challenge: A failed buzz or a legitimate controversy?

Article / 07/02/2019 / Gloria von Beust & Joël Elshout

The "10 years challenge" raises the question of the use of facial recognition software by social networks. It is understood that posting two photographs token ten years apart would make it much easier for algorithms to detect our presence online. Our face becomes a digital fingerprint which allows artificial intelligence to recognise people and their emotions. The advertisement sector is very much interested in such data. For example, people who gained weight during those ten years could form a database for companies selling weight-loss products.

Facebook denies being at the origin of this movement, stating that it is only meant as entertainment for the platform’s users. The Intelligencer website – which belongs to the New York Magazine – posted an article about this theory: “Facebook doesn’t need to fool you”.

The article states that it is certain that Facebook preserves all images registered on its platform and that they will be used to expand its database. Will this be used to further develop Facebook’s facial recognition tool? It likely will be. While we can be worried about the fact that all that data is in the hands of a private company, we can also be happy that it will help the development of facial recognition technology. The latter already helps solve police investigations or find back missing children years later. We can thus hope that something positive will come from this challenge, should Facebook one day decide to share its knowledge about its facial recognition tool.

The article’s author indicates that Facebook already has a large photo database which helps its algorithms: the platform itself. If the company wants to look for other data, it could find dozens which are easily accessible.

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Facebook also already owns an immense database with information about its users which can be used for marketing purposes. The social network continues to acquire information thanks to all people’s interactions on the platform, via other websites and via third-party applications.

A lot of people have concerns about Facebook’s use of data. The platform already gathers billions of photos with our approval. Do we really think for a moment that those two pictures will be a danger to our privacy? Not immediately. There is, however, a real risk that our data is used by companies making use of biometry. The decision is up to the user: Facebook allows its users to deactivate the facial recognition software via its settings. If users accept to share photos, they also accept that unknown people peruse them.

The buzz about the 10 years challenge was also picked up and used for good purposes. Organisations such as Greenpeace and the WWF posted photos to alert people about the state of the planet.

This challenge shows us that we need to choose carefully when, where and how we share our data if we do not want our information being used in a wrong manner or for wrong purposes.

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