The end of anonymity

IMAGE: Juliatim — 123RF

Facial recognition has been around for a long time: anybody can create a reasonably accurate facial recognition system for around $35 using a Raspberry Pi and a few other components. But recent advances in processing capacity, image resolution and recognition algorithms now make this a convenient and secure way to unlock our smartphones, and that can also be shared with other applications.

At the same time, our governments have been stepping up the use of this technology, supposedly in a fight against crime that originally used systems designed to locate criminals and store their images in databases, and that now include people who have not broken the law per se, but who are instead seen as a political threat. In countries such as the United States, China, India and many more, hovering up biometric data is increasingly common, with all that this entails, including security problems. Everybody who enters the United States is now facially registered on government databases. In China, an experiment is underway in the northwestern province of Xinjiang supposedly aimed at containing the threat of Uyghur secessionism, now makes it possible to identify anybody who passes by one of the myriad closed circuit cameras installed there.

Where China leads, the rest of the world follows…

Facebook uses the same technology to recognize your image even in untagged photographs, although for the moment, it is not allowed to do so in Europe or Canada. In Russia, as I have discussed a while ago, there are apps that work with photographs on the widely used VK social network to recognize people you may have passed by in the street: a kind of “Shazam for people”.

The biometrics dilemma

Ours is a society that values comfort, and so we are living through a complex transition to another that seems willing to trade security for privacy. Soon, we will unlock not only our smartphones or our computers through facial recognition, but our front door, while our car will only start when it is us or somebody we have authorized who is sitting behind the wheel, while ATMs will dispense money after we have been positively identified. At the same time, it will be completely normal for our movements to be recorded through cameras located everywhere, while some of us will be denied access to certain places depending on circumstances that today might seem like sci-fi .

The progressive implementation of facial recognition will change society as we know it, even though nobody has been consulted. We are headed toward a world in which identification will no longer be voluntary, but instead part of a system over which we will have not control.

(En español, aquí)


The end of anonymity was originally published in Enrique Dans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.