Facial Recognition for the masses?

Up until recently facial recognition was something of crime novels, or police super computers, but Google’s Picasa web album, image sharing service introduced its very own facial recognition technology this week.

The new ‘name tagging” feature, identifies faces within uploaded images and asks users to identify those faces with the name and email address of the subject. Picasa very quickly learns to identify faces on its own, and starts to automatically tag them whenever it sees them again.

The technology will undoubtedly take the hard work out of tagging photographs, and will make finding images of people much easier both from within the site and via search engine queries (if the images are marked as public).

But is it all getting a little “big brother”? and what does it mean in terms of our privacy. Do we as individuals have any control over what is being published about us on the internet?

Many employers are now routinely “googling” potential employee before asking them to interview, so it you have a myspace page, a facebook account or a blog you can maybe expect that to be seen, depending on what you’ve choosen to share or keep private. But you have a little less control when it comes to what photos of yourself that others have chosen to share,  maybe its a drunken stag night image, or a fancy dress costume you once wore, but do you really want a potential employer to see it?

In the past those photos may have existed, but they were relatively hard to find, because they were either not tagged, or where somewhere that obscure that only close friends would ever see them, but now there’s a chance they will be alot more visible, firstly because they will be tagged, secondly because picasa is part of google and therefore much more likely to be picked up by the Google search engines, and finally because when you look at the terms and conditions on sites like picasa or the new chrome search engine, you’ll see that all images uploaded give full copyright to the service owner, so should you choose to take an image down you may find its not that simple.

Facial Recognition for the masses?

Are IP addresses personal data?

.net this month (April) has an interesting piece about whether our ip addresses should be regarded as personal information and protected under the data protection act.

It would seem that this debate has been raging across Europe if not the world, with the German data protection commissioner (peter Scharr) telling the European Parliament that if a person can be identified from an IP address, then it has to be regarded as private. A recent French court, on the other hand argued that IP addresses relate to specific computers or networks and not specific users therefore they do not constitute personal data.

While it may seem an insignificant point, as to whether an IP should be classed as personal data or not, it has huge impact of the way search engines and webmasters collect data on who is accessing, and indeed how there sites are being used.

Googles spokes person told .net that it “depended on the context”, where an ISP assigns an IP address to a user, and knows that users name and address this may be considered personal data, but where an IP address is collected by a website simply as a statistic then it is not. Google store IP addresses for all users performing a search for at least 2 years to help improve their search statistics and accuracy.

The implications for all of the worlds websites and search engines that collect IP’s for statistical purposes having to treat these as confidential data, and go through the data protection procedures to protect them are huge.

Another huge implication will be to the peer to peer piracy police, where IP addresses are being used to identify, track and prosecute people illegally copying, sharing and publishing audio/video and software illegally.

This is a very grey area and I would imagine that the debate will go on for some time.

Are IP addresses personal data?