10-year challenge: Facebook responds to suggestions meme was created to train its algorithms

Critics have suggested the old photos could be a goldmine for Facebook's data-harvesting operations

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 17 January 2019 14:40 GMT
10-year-challege: Facebook accused of using meme to mine user data

The 10-year challenge is just “fun” and not being used for any other ends, Facebook has said amid suggestions it could be harvesting data from people’s old photos.

The challenge has spread across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and recent days, encouraging people to post photos of themselves now alongside ones from 2009. Huge number of images have been posted, including by some of the world’s biggest celebrities.

But as the popularity has grown, so have warnings that images posted onto Facebook and Instagram can be mined for any potential data that might be useful to the companies.

Some even suggested that the meme could have been intentionally created by Facebook, as a way of helping to generate photographs to train an AI that would be able to guess how people age.

“Let’s say you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on aging,” tweeted Wired’s editor Nicholas Thompson, alongside a link to a piece on his website exploring the possibilities for data collection. “What would do? Maybe start a meme like #10yearchallenge.”

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The article Mr Thompson linked to did not say explicitly that Facebook had created the meme, though it suggested that it may have. It ended with a suggestion that people “treat our own data with respect”, and that we should ask the same of the companies who store it.

Mr Thompson’s post as well as the much longer Wired article were just one of a number of people to raise concerns about the challenge, and the data that people might accidentally be giving over to companies like Facebook.

But it responded to say that it had nothing to do with the creation of the challenge.

“The 10 year challenge is a user-generated meme that started on its own, without our involvement. It’s evidence of the fun people have on Facebook, and that’s it.”

Facebook’s denial was met with a flood of irritated posts, many from users referencing the company’s previous, high-profile data mining scandals and breaches.

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