The Unsettling Future of Facial Recognition



The first time I witnessed a camera detect a face to aid the autofocus system, I was amazed. In part because the technology seemed magical and the highlighted rectangle tracking faces seemed like science fiction, and in part because I seem to possess a talent for taking out-of-focus photos.


The first time I used Apple Aperture’s facial recognition, I thought it was pretty novel. It wasn’t terribly accurate and it was slow (as is Lightroom’s version), but it seemed to have some utility in adding metadata to my burgeoning archive.

The first time Facebook auto-tagged my friends, I thought the future had arrived. What a great convenience and time saver for a prolific photo poster like me!

But when you stop to think about the privacy implications, the world can suddenly resemble an Orwellian, dystopian nightmare.

Today, Microsoft released a service that will guess your emotion from a photo. This follows their virally popular “guess my age” feature from earlier in the year, which turned out to be a pretty sneaky way to serve up ads once a user’s browser had been cookied and an age range was ostensibly tagged to that consumer. I was so caught up by the novelty of the tools (and let’s be honest, my own narcissism) to consider the privacy implications – and that’s scary.