'Your face is big data:' The title of this photographer's experiment says it all

It's ridiculously easy to identify and find most people online, he found

Photographs used in Tsvetkov's study. Credit: Egor Tsvetkov

Photographs used in Tsvetkov's study. Credit: Egor Tsvetkov

Got privacy? You may think you do, but a recent experiment by a Russian photographer suggests otherwise.

In a project entitled, "Your face is big data," Rodchenko Art School student, Egor Tsvetkov, began by photographing about 100 people who happened to sit across from him on the subway at some point. He then used FindFace, a facial-recognition app that taps neural-network technology, to try to track them down on Russian social media site VK.

It was ridiculously easy to find 60 to 70 per cent of the subjects aged between 18 and 35 or so, he found, although for older people it was more difficult.

Along the way, he learned a whole lot about the lives of complete strangers.

Acting "like a Web stalker" was "uncomfortable for me," Tsvetkov said via email.

Then again, "my point in this art project is to show how technology breaks down the possibility of private life," he said. "It shows us the future."

More details and photographs from Tsvetkov's experiment can be found on Russian photography-focused website Birds in Flight.

A common area of application for artificial intelligence, facial-recognition technology is now used by numerous police departments. Racial biases have been cited among the technology's potential downsides, even apart from privacy implications.

Facial-recognition technology is one of the top three privacy issues of our time, said Beth Givens, executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

"Capturing facial characteristics can be totally unobtrusive to those individuals whose faces are captured," Givens explained. "They have no way of knowing it was done."

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