IF YOUR face and name are anywhere on the web, you may be recognised whenever you walk the streets—not just by cops but by any geek with a computer. That seems to be the conclusion from some new research on the limits of privacy.
For suspected miscreants, and people chasing them, face-recognition technology is old hat. Brazil, preparing for the soccer World Cup in 2014, is already trying out pairs of glasses with mini-cameras attached; policemen wearing them could snap images of faces, easy to compare with databases of criminals. More authoritarian states love such methods: photos are taken at checkpoints, and images checked against recent participants in protests.
But could such technology soon be used by anyone at all, to identify random passers-by and unearth personal details about them? A study which is to be unveiled on August 4th at Black Hat, a security conference in Las Vegas, suggests that day is close. Its authors, Alessandro Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman, all at America’s Carnegie Mellon University, ran several experiments that show how three converging technologies are undermining privacy. One is face-recognition software itself, which has improved a lot. The researchers also used “cloud computing” services, which provide lots of cheap processing power. And they went to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, where most users post real names and photos of themselves.
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