Researchers show power of Facebook facial-recognition software


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Facebook has come under a lot of heat for its facial-recognition software, in which the social networking site has been automatically enrolling its more than 750 million users.

But Facebook has made it clear that the software, which automatically tags people in photos, isn’t going anyway anytime soon. In fact, facial-recognition software is growing and is being used and further developed by Facebook, Google, Apple and the U.S. government.


On Friday Carnegie Mellon University researcher Alessandro Acquisti showed off his research, funded in part by the U.S. Army, on how facial-recognition technology can be used with Facebook profile photos to match names and other identification data to pictures.

Acquisti presented his findings, alongside fellow researchers Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman, at the Black Hat Technical Security Conference in Las Vegas, according to tech website Cnet, which reported on the group’s presentation.

The researchers set up a computer webcam on the Carnegie Mellon campus and asked people to volunteer to have their pictures taken, Cnet said.

Those photos were then cross referenced with a database the team built of about 25,000 Facebook profile photos (all Facebook user names and photos are publicly shared with the world afterall), the report said.

The researchers found that facial recognition software identified 31% of the students by name, Cnet said.

Acquisti then demonstrated an app for Apple’s iPhone that can ‘take a photograph of someone, pipe it through facial-recognition software, and then display on-screen that person’s name and vital statistics,’ the report said.


‘Facial visual searches may become as common as today’s text-based searches’ and that has ‘ominous risks for privacy,’ Acquisti said in the Cnet report.

‘What we did on the street with mobile devices today will be accomplished in less intrusive ways tomorrow,’ he said in the report. ‘A stranger could know your last tweet just by looking at you.’

In yet another demonstration, about 6,000 profile photos and names from a dating site were cross referenced with 277,978 Facebook profile photos and names and ‘about 1 in 10 of the dating site’s members -- nearly all of whom used pseudonyms -- turned out to be identifiable,’ Cnet said.

In a draft of the researcher’s presentation, posted online and titled Faces of Facebook: Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality, they even said they’ve been able to use profile photos and facial-recognition software to get details such as birthdate and social security number predictions.


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

: Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality. Credit: Alessandro Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman /Carnegie Mellon University