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Time travel with Facebook December 13, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Software.
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Facebook has launched their new Timeline feature to the world this week. Much attention has focused on the improved look and feel of the user interface, particularly the large cover photo that now dominates a Facebook profile.

But much less attention has been paid to the more interesting aspect of the Timeline – the ability to move back in time to any point and see what the user was doing at that time. In effect, Facebook has created an open diary because you can go back in time on your friend’s profile to see what they were posting on the system last year – or even on a specific date.

This is an interesting development, not least for those interested in privacy. It used to be that you updated your Facebook and as the update dropped off the screen because new ones replaced it, that would then be lost forever. Now users can move back and forth in time examining every little post you made.

Many web watchers have already warned avid social networkers about the danger that they will arrive at a job interview only to find the interviewer has found some compromising photos online. But with the ability to move back and forth in time scanning the entire online history of a person, this danger just became a whole lot more real.

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I’ve seen that face before somewhere… May 25, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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What are the commercial implications for technology such as facial recognition?

It’s a technology that is already available today. Users of the popular Google Picasa photo-sharing site that ‘tag’ a friend in a photograph will find that the site scans their photo collection and suggests other photos where the same friend has appeared – asking if they also want to tag that photo.

But think of the implications if a computer can immediately recognise a person. Google recently launched a search tool called Google Goggles that lets users search the Internet for items using a photograph – so you can photograph something with your mobile phone and then search for whatever is in the photo. But they didn’t enable facial recognition for this tool – imagine if you could photograph a stranger on the train and find all their online social networks through a photo search. It’s a stalkers dream tool.

Commercially there should be immense opportunities for facial recognition to improve security, but the companies that are exploring these technologies also need to be aware of what people will tolerate and what is seen as beneficial. For example, most people would feel more secure at airports if passports used facial recognition technology.

But do you remember the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report? It was set in the near future and focused on a computer that could see into the future – so the police could catch criminals before they ever committed a crime. One memorable sequence in the film shows Tom Cruise walking through a future city centre where the advertising billboards use facial recognition to profile who he is in real time and to change the advert to something appropriate to him as an individual consumer.

Privacy regulations and public mistrust are going to prevent something like that happening any time soon, but with freely available social networks now using facial recognition technology, are we already on the slippery slope to a place where anonymity is impossible?