A hoax got millions of Facebook users worried about their privacy with many raising questions about the safety of the facial recognition data that the social networking giant has been hoarding for quite some time now.
Since a couple of weeks, Facebook users are being shown an ad for an app called Facezam that claims that it would allow anyone to locate the profile of a person on Facebook by simply uploading their photograph. The ad claims that it is end of privacy with Facezam capable of finding anyone’s profile through a simple photograph and nothing else.
“Facezam is here. Privacy is Over”, the ads displayed. “Take a photo of someone you want to find on Facebook, tag their face and touch to Facezam. Facezam finds their profile, the rest is up to you.”
The ad was for an iOS app that was to be launched on March 21. However, Facezam later confirmed that it was a complete hoax and that they do not have any intentions of providing such a service that could endanger the privacy of millions of users across the globe. Facezam said earlier this week that the advertisement was a PR stunt to garner attention.
App – NO; Technology – YES
Facezam confirmed that they don’t plan to launch an app that is capable of doing what the ad claimed, but While the app will not exist the technology behind it – facial recognition – certainly does and that is what raises huge privacy concerns.
Facebook, Google and other companies offering social networking services have long been collecting facial recognition data through the photographs that you upload on these sites. Through their facial recognition software, the social networking sites are able to automatically tag your friends and family in photographs you upload and all the data resides on Facebook and Google servers.
Since the hoax went viral, Facebook has outright denied that they have been contacted by Facezam app for permission to use facial recognition data and event went to the extent stating that even if such an approval would have been sought, they would have denied it.
Such claims however raise concerns that the technology of facial recognition does exist and there is a possibility that such technology could land in the hands of wrong people who could create apps that would allow others to violate their privacy.
For instance, Facebook itself has allowed use of facial recognition data to a company called Facedeals that offers special promotions to customers who sign up using Facebook. Once a Facebook user walks through the door of the store or restaurant that has participated in Facedeals system, a camera at the location scans users’ face and compares the biometric data with facial recognition data on Facebook. The store or restaurant can identify the user who has just walked in and then offers them the discount on their Facebook profile. The requirement here is that customers have to approve the usage of their data on Facebook by Facedeals.
Facebook says that it wouldn’t offer any developer access to biometric or facial recognition data that could put users’ privacy at risk; however, out of experience we have seen many apps sneaking in that extract data without express permission.