We Have Seen Big Brother (and he will be us)

Face recognition is one  technology that is going to have major privacy ramifications in the future.  It is wise for everyone to have an understanding as to where this is heading so that they can protect themselves today through proper Privacy Settings on services they use on the Internet.

This will play out with the convergence of multiple technologies. Take one life altering technology and use it in conjunction with another and you start to get compound results (both good and bad), just like with your money. If you want to see how this is going to play out in the real world look at existing technologies in use today. As with a lot of new tech, what starts out in law enforcement or military channels works its way into consumer goods. This is about to happen with personal facial recognition. Over the next decade it will change social interaction allowing anyone with a smart phone access to a personal profile of almost anyone in the room.

Here’s a little background.  I believe it was the director of security at Forrester Research who wrote a book detailing various different technologies that were in use by government and military. At the time it was both comforting and a little scary to think that popular streets in every major US city were quietly employing real-time facial recognition on everyone who walked down that street.

Using this technology the cop on the corner would get a message with the picture of a wanted felon who had just unsuspectingly wandered into the camera’s view – think  Bourban Street in New Orleans. Behind the scenes, cameras were taking everyone’s picture, transmitting it in real time. Software on the server analyses your face in 27 different quadrants and is then instantly capable of identifying wanted individuals. That was five years ago. Today this is in place in every modern airport worldwide. In the next few years it will hit consumer technology.

Here’s how I think it will happen…

You may or may not know it, but the default setting on almost all social networks are wide open.  For all intense and purpose this means that almost anyone can do anything with your information for free – including your photos.   As you might expect, today enormous databases are being aggregated around the world using information from these social networks.  (Note:  If you are not comfortable with this, here is how you restrict your privacy settings for Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn).

The result will become a form of instant personal profiling.  Here is a first generation example.  Anybody can take anyone’s picture and have it built an instant profile on you.  Adds a whole new spin the cocktail or speed dating circuit I am sure.

Chances are however that people are not going to be thrilled with you sticking a camera in their face however.  Enter the spy pen or button camera that you can find on eBay and you have an instant walk around profiling system.

Add a mobile phone for an interface, or just use your hand like the prototype below and you should have an instant on the go profiling system.

It sounds very creepy but will all new things there is both an upside and a downside.  Consider these usages:

  • > You know that you know that person across the room but cannot remember their name
  • > The sales guy who is prospecting wants a way of remembering who he just met and getting details on him
  • > You want to catch up with what an old friend has been doing but have not read their Facebook feed
But also things like this:
  • > People walk down the beach while you are on holiday profiling potential kidnapping victims
  • > Stalkers researching their next target
  • > Billboards custom marketing products directly to you based on your social interests

I am sure that you can see both the upside and concern about this kind of technology.  Keep in mind that what people can build they will build.  Regardless, for better or worse, these technologies are headed your way and will be converging shortly.  Keep it in mind with regards to your Privacy Settings on anything you do on the internet for your best protection.



E.O. & E.

About The Author

Mark Schneider
Mark Schneider is one of Canada's leading Chartered Financial Planners. For over 30 years he has helped hundreds of regular Canadian families grow small fortunes through consistent planning and wise advice. He holds the following designations: CFP, CLU, CHFC, CFSB