Cyber Culture: YouTube lets its users get caught by the fuzz

 

We've all been caught unawares in the digital crosshair. It's one of the unfortunate side effects of leaving the house these days; as more people become faintly obsessed with documenting what's going on around them, we stand a good chance of achieving social media immortality against our will. Every week I receive notifications that I appear in some photo on Facebook – and every week I'll untag myself, unless I'm looking particularly handsome, which is rare and getting rarer.

This debate simmers endlessly; how much care should we take over accidentally compromising the privacy of others, and how much right do people have to be angry when they see themselves captured in tweets, photographs or videos?

Privacy campaigners became flustered the other week when writer Janey Godley live-blogged a row going on between a man and a woman on a train and used sufficient detail for them both to be identifiable. It's telling that when I just googled "couple arguing on train" to check Godley's name, dozens of candid YouTube videos were returned featuring furious couples bickering on public transport. It's the kind of celebrity no one wants, that no one has asked for. Last week YouTube launched a feature that could spare the blushes of those couples. "Blur All Faces" does exactly what it says on the button; I tested it on one of my own woozy creations and there were suddenly jelly-like blobs on people's shoulders where their heads used to be.

The software isn't infallible; odd angles and poor lighting can confuse it. But it's being touted by YouTube as a boon for any activists who seek to expose injustice without putting individuals at risk, and is a direct response to last year's Cameras Everywhere report that demanded technology companies start to protect and empower these people.

Whether digital voyeurs on trains will also choose to use this tool remains to be seen, though. It would certainly lessen the viral impact of their cheeky surveillance.

The irony is that while YouTube introduces a facility to blur the faces of individuals, its owner, Google, has been working hard on implementing and improving facial recognition technology. It bought a big player in that field, Pitt Patt, about this time last year, and just before Christmas equipped Google+ with a "Find My Face" feature which alerts you whenever you appear in your friends' photos. Facebook has had a similar feature for quite a while, and its recent acquisition of face.com has given it access to tens of billions of photo tags.

Of course, these new features are presented to us in a very benign way: they're time-saving benefits that save us hassle. But actually, they're so hamstrung by privacy issues that they are – perhaps thankfully – fairly pointless. So even if you're not of a paranoid bent, you can't help wondering what the real benefit to these internet giants will ultimately be, now that they control a potentially powerful faceprint database.

A recent US Congressional hearing entitled "What facial recognition technology means for privacy and civil liberties" hauled Facebook's privacy manager, Rob Sherman, over the coals. He stressed, again, that these facial-recognition features only operate within one's circle of friends. But some envisage a time when facial recognition is used for targeted advertising; others note with a raised eyebrow that very similar technology was used to identify offenders in last summer's UK riots.

Should be we worried? I don't believe that we live in a digital surveillance state, but the ingredients for a frighteningly efficient one are being kept in cupboards that are disconcertingly adjacent.

Leaks, damned leaks: another nail in the coffin of pathetic passwords

The past month has seen a couple of high-profile password leaks from major web services, with 6.5m being swiped from LinkedIn and 400,000 finding their way out of Yahoo's clutches and on to the internet. It represents a pretty grim security failure – particularly in the case of Yahoo, where the passwords weren't even stored in an encrypted form.

True, in the vast majority of cases the information that would be available to hackers if they attempted to log in using your details would be mundane, uninteresting and, in the case of LinkedIn, slightly exaggerated to make yourself look more attractive to prospective employers. But the reason these leaks of email and password combinations are so dangerous is that we will insist on using the same passwords for every service.

How many times, for example, have you signed up to a new one using your email address and a password, where that same password could be used to access that email account? The value of these password breaches to criminals is directly proportional to our laziness and lack of ingenuity when it comes to creating passwords – and we're phenomenally lazy.

Meet Open Source Guy – possibly the world's worst superhero

The New Zealander and Berlin resident Sam Muirhead is embarking on a curious project next Wednesday, in which he aims to live an "open-source life" for precisely one year. With the underlying aim of raising awareness of the idea of open source outside the world of technology, Muirhead will be avoiding traditionally copyrighted products and embracing those whose methods of production are freely available to copy, adapt and share. In the case of computer software the options are obvious, and he'll be jettisoning his Mac for a Linux box for the duration. But, as he notes, things are less straightforward when it comes to, say, pyjamas, electricity or dentistry. As a resolution it's clearly doomed to fail, but as an endeavour that raises questions about our often feeble submission to the whims and legal muscle of large corporations, it's one that'll be fascinating to watch. Muirhead is raising funds for his project at indiegogo.com/yearofopensource – and if you're having trouble envisaging the kind of problems he'll be confronting, you can read a rather sweet letter he wrote to his mum which explains things perfectly.

The phone system that allows you a look in – just as long as you blink

There must be some benefit to facial recognition technology, surely? Ah, here were go – the latest Android operating system, 4.0, allows you to unlock your phone with a look, rather than an insecure passcode (see above) or swipe pattern.

Your phone can now tell if you're the one peering at it and grant you access accordingly, while anyone who fails to match your radiant beauty is kept firmly out. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it works pretty well, and it's been further improved by the Android 4.1 update, which checks for blinking eyes. (Apparently people could get past the lock by holding a photo of the owner up to the camera.)

An alternative biometric option is due to arrive on smartphones pretty soon in the shape of Dragon ID, made by the same company who produce the dictation app, Dragon Dictation.

It can detect vocal nuances in a range of languages including English, French, German, Chinese and Japanese; match the inflexions of the phone's owner and it's open sesame – a challenge to any budding impressionists if ever there was one.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Investigo: Finance Business Partner

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm - London

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea