by Bill Snyder

Facial Recognition Abuse Is Bad, Government Regulation Even Worse

Jul 23, 20123 mins

Congress is making noises about regulating facial recognition software and other abuses of privacy. Instead of having the government damage the technology industry with too much regulation, vote with your feet and boycott sites that abuse facial recognition.

Having my photo tagged without my permission and then being identified by any bozo or government snoop with a decent set of software tools bothers me a lot. But here’s something that bothers me even more: Having the government deciding which digital technologies are safe for us to use and which aren’t.

I think Senator Al Franken is a decent guy and is right to be concerned about the abuse of facial recognition software, but he’s making noises like a politician who smells an issue and is thinking of imposing some sort of regulation. That’s a really terrible idea. All too many U.S. lawmakers are barely beyond the stage of thinking that the Internet is a collection of tubes; do we really want these guys to tell Facebook or any other social media company how to run its business?

That’s not to say I think it’s fine to sell our data to third parties without permission or to make it nearly impossible for even intelligent users to figure out the privacy policy of a company or app. It isn’t fine, of course, and I’ve beat on those guys for years. They do it because it’s profitable to sell your data. How surprising is that?


Stop Whining and Protect Yourself

My remedy: Vote with your feet, or in this case, your delete finger. If you really don’t like what Facebook is doing with your data, don’t use the site. Or if that’s too radical, then don’t post any data that you don’t want to share with the entire world. Don’t want an app to harvest your email address book or track your location? Delete it. Didn’t know that it was doing something pernicious? You’ve got to keep up with the tech news. Sure, that seems unfair, but unless you want a cop looking over the shoulder of every programmer, you’ve simply got to take some responsibility for your privacy.

It’s hard for me to be very sympathetic to somebody who posts embarrassing content somewhere on the Web and then finds out that a parent, spouse or potential employer has discovered it. What were they thinking? Sorry, but the government has more to spend our tax dollars on then saving clueless social media users from themselves.

I’m aware, of course, that having your face tagged isn’t the same as posting a picture of yourself in your underwear and then complaining when it is used against you. Still, there’s no easy remedy. Facial recognition can certainly be abused. So can cameras or Web sites that let you anonymize your email address, or server software that facilitates the sending of millions of spams a day.

If Senator Franken wants to stop an abuse of privacy, maybe he should be asking about the use of surveillance drones inside the United States. Now, that’s a cause I can get behind.

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