This is a big question today as today it seems to me the venerable Facebook and Google are the leading owners of this followed up by the many dating sites. However you’re saying so what they have a picture of my face, what does this mean to me? Basically everything, as this is the most unique public asset which you own. Ok, you’re asking about the term “public” and my use of it, while some of the most unique aspects of our bodies are our finger prints and retinas. Yet it’s difficult read these attributes at a distance with a camera, however your face isn’t.
So what if someone referenced your public picture on Facebook, then ran a Google image search with facial recognition software to seek out and map all information about you? Well look no further as this August at Black Hat, the world wide recognized security conference in Las Vegas researchers Alessandro Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman, all at Carnegie Mellon University will report on their results of doing just this.
If you haven’t guessed it, they were successful in using off the shelf technology to make this all happen. In that they were able to identify 10 percent of the sample set, along with the first five numbers of their social security numbers and many other data points which one would think private. However with cheap cloud computing power what once appeared to be only noise now is turned into meaningful data. It’s worth noting that things like social security and driver’s license numbers are created with publicly known algorithms so it is a simple process if you have part of the number and part of the data, you can recreate the numbers in whole.
So as waxed in this blog before, privacy only existed because of cost, yes the cost was the only thing holding the damn back and with technology breaking those barriers, it’s now a thing of the past. However for grins and giggled I decided to experiment with this myself using an iPod Touch and a free application named SynthCam. Now the purpose this [app] was for photographic effect yet it does something neat in that it locks on to a unique object which it tracks then adds up the images with a tracking map showing the movement of the target.
So while at Schiphol Airport waiting for a flight back home, I visited the McDonalds which sits upon a cross walk with seating. Here one could see quite a ways down the wing. So here I sat pointing the camera (with no modification) at a person walking down the way you know what, it worked in tracking their movements including the shop windows they peered in, as well as the people they walked around to avoid. All of this as it was able to lock onto their face and use that as a unique target at a distance.
While not as sophisticated as the work of the Carnegie Mellon University researchers, it does show the practicality of recognition software deployed on (economical) consumer equipment. As the other interesting thing is the McDonald’s I was dinning at also offered free internet access (which was a deciding factor to dine there) so it would be easy to link to the unlimited processing power of the cloud via this readily available connection.
Guess it now goes without saying, the next time you look in the mirror, you will be looking at your most valuable asset in today’s new world order…