Resist the evil of the selfie password
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.