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The 10 Year Challenge: A Harmless Challenge or a Way for Facebook to Collect Facial Recognition Data?

Is there an agenda we should know about?

By now, you must have seen the social media ’10 Year Challenge’. People on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are posting pictures of themselves from ten years ago alongside a current photograph, to show their glow-up, age progression or journey thus far. While this challenge seems like harmless fun, there has been some speculation about whether companies have set up the challenge to update their facial recognition algorithms.

So, is there a link between the ’10 Year Challenge’, data mining and facial recognition? Well, Facebook has denied that they are behind the meme challenge, but there are various ways in which this data can be used. Kate O’Neill writes on Wired that the facial recognition theory is plausible and explores what companies like Facebook stand to gain from this kind of data.

If Facebook has all these images anyway, and we’re not giving them anything new, why would this make any difference? O’Neill argues that data mining companies would ideally want pictures taken a set number of years apart in order to track age progression while excluding all the “useless noise” of other posts people generally upload and share on their social media profiles.

She explains the value of a “clean, simple, helpfully labelled set of then-and-now photos”. As for fake pictures and ironic participations in the meme trend, data researchers and recognition algorithms are largely “sophisticated enough” to distinguish and throw them out.

While Facebook denied that this is part of a planned effort to collect data to train facial recognition algorithms, here are some things to consider.

This trend may not have been designed to extract data from users, but there are many social games designed to do just that. O’Neill points out a few uses for facial recognition (not all of them are bad):

  • It can help with finding missing children
  • It can be used for targeted advertising
  • It could factor into healthcare and insurance assessment (if you’re aging fast, you may pay more)
  • It can be sold to law enforcement agencies who can use it as they wish

Forbes reports that both Amazon and Google have received backlash for overstepping when it comes to privacy: Amazon for selling facial recognition technology to the government and Google for allegedly scanning a woman’s biometric data to create a template of her face without her permission. As writer Nicole Martin, points out in Forbes, “there are no federal laws governing the use” of this technology.

While there are good and bad ways to use this technology, it is a reminder to be conscious of what we share online and to question how it could be used.

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