Home > Uncategorized > Resist the evil of the selfie password

Resist the evil of the selfie password

March 17, 2016

When you think of currency in the digital age, stop thinking money, not even Bitcoin. Start thinking about data.

There’s a reason Google, Facebook, and Amazon dominate their respective markets, and it’s not just because they have lots of customers. In fact it’s the opposite: they have better products through better and more personal data about their customers.

Take Google as an example. When people have tried to argue that Google is anti-competitive, the counter-argument is that “people could just use Bing.” But that exposes the fallacy that we searchers are Google’s customers. We’re not, we’re just its product, or rather our data is. Google’s customers are the companies that buy ads on Google’s search results page and on other websites where Google places ads.

And, as Nathan Newman points out, Google’s control over people’s data is anti-competitive, and Bing or any other search engine (ad engine) cannot actually compete with Google, because Google has a corner on the currency in this particular market.

See what I mean? Google controls the world’s search and email data, and similarly Facebook controls the world’s social interaction data, including photos, and Amazon controls the world’s – or at least the country’s – purchase data and supply-chain data.

That’s why they’re so big and powerful. It’s not simply a question of how often we use their services, it’s a question of how much data they can extract from us while we do so. And that’s why the White House is trying to get them to help them fight terrorism, because they have all the resources needed.

Which brings me to my subject of today, namely Amazon’s recently filed patent for using facial recognition to authorize purchases (hat tip Mike Lawler).

This is a pure play for a new dataset, that so far only Facebook has had access to. When someone uploads a photo to Facebook, sometimes they do Facebook the service of labeling the people in the picture, which helps Facebook create a rather large database of pictures of people, and in particular how the same person can look slightly different in different pictures or at different times of their lives.

[How helpful we are to supply these companies with their data! Recently I’ve been taking to labeling my pictures with ridiculous names just as a small and useless protest against this overwhelming force.]

So, Amazon wants in on the facial recognition game, and they’re going to make it a condition to get your stuff: you want to empty your shopping cart? You’ll have to give us more data, thanks. We’ll collect it all and we’ll be able to compete with Facebook in this specific realm of data.

Do you know who else really likes the idea of good facial recognition data? People who do video surveillance. That’s why we take our pictures in passport control nowadays when we enter the country. That’s why there are cameras everywhere we walk in New York City.

So far the facial recognition technology isn’t very good, but it could get better fast if we take a selfie video every time we buy a can of coffee online. And if that happens, we won’t need the GPS in our phones to give away our locations, because just by having faces we will be doing enough.

I’ve resigned myself to lots of data collection, but this selfie stuff is going too far. I’d like us to resist, which means having a plan before it begins in earnest.

Any suggestions?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 17, 2016 at 7:50 am

    And MicroSlop is aggressively forcing updates to Winnows X with its creepy “Get 2 Know U” telemetry that collects all the persondata it can get its invisible mitts on. That’s not about ads.


  2. March 17, 2016 at 9:04 am

    As far as suggestions for the resistance go, it may already be hopeless. There are two big forces stacked against the chances of any future for humanity —

    1. Corporate Personhood
    2. Mass Stupidity

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 17, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Well I call it this “Operation Perception-Deception is sadly alive and well in the US. Our Dupes of Hazard society will fall for this too. You are correct with the observation of the White House as they really don’t support privacy efforts at all. As I warned a few years ago, the Data Sellers for profit still evade those who think that “verbiage only” laws are enough to offer protection, e-commerce folks just code all around it and so far sell a perception of “everything is really ok” when it is not.



  4. Jack Tingle
    March 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Just feed it the same face-like glyph each time. It won’t recognize your face on the street, then.


    • March 17, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Actually, that won’t work. They are explicitly going to ask the person using it to do something like wink or turn left so that they know it’s a real person.


  5. simon
    March 17, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    You could start wearing this every time you leave the house:
    It sadly does nothing to fix the underlying problem though.


  6. March 18, 2016 at 1:50 am

    You yourself have suggested that Facebook is likely to face a steep decline in popularity. Surely that will result in their dataset declining in value, as people switch it off, and their photos go out of date, and, more importantly, the peak of people being in their dataset at all passes.


    • March 18, 2016 at 7:05 am

      I said it’s for old people, and it is, but there are lots of old people.


  7. March 20, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    One attempt to improve the situation is My Data – A Nordic Model for human-centered
    personal data management and processing, see PDF report here: http://www.lvm.fi/documents/20181/859937/MyData-nordic-model/2e9b4eb0-68d7-463b-9460-821493449a63?version=1.0
    and check out also the forthcoming conference: http://mydata2016.org/


  8. noneya
    March 23, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You’re free not to use google (and use e.g. duckduckgo), but the payment for using them is your data.


    • JP Onstwedder
      March 24, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      True, and: if you use a service, you have to pay; if you don’t want to pay with money you pay with data. If you want convenient payments (e.g., Paypal), you pay for that convenience with, you guessed it, data. It costs Google et al very little to collect and process the data, whereas our cost of the inconvenience is much higher, so in the end their business model wins. Individuals can resist (don’t have a facebook or google account, use cash or prepaid credit cards, encrypt your emails, use adblockers) but that becomes an arms race and the same economics apply: it costs individuals too much to avoid being tracked.So the only solution is to withdraw from the connected, data-driven economy. Saves money, too!


      • noneya
        March 26, 2016 at 11:02 pm

        “It costs individuals too much to avoid being tracked” – let me rephrase this – individuals don’t value not being tracked.

        When they start caring, non-tracking services like the aforementioned duckduckgo will take off and others will notice and will follow.


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