Facial Recognition Software: As Good as Your Brain

In case you needed another reason to get paranoid about your growing loss of privacy, Facebook has now successfully developed facial recognition software that performs to the same standard as the human brain. [Cited FB research paper.]

The project is called “DeepFace”, and its recognition rate of 97.25 is closely comparable to human accuracy at 97.53%. Even with variances in lighting; and even when the angle of the shot is different. If you’d like to get into the detail, the link above gives a nice condensed summary.

What could this mean in the future? It’s hard to predict, of course; but here are a couple of questions that I was wondering about:

  • Will social networks be retained by law enforcement for location purposes?
  • Any impact on searches for missing children?
  • Combine public surveillance video cameras with DeepFace — that’s a powerful tool. Anyone regulating that?
  • Can anyone (or entity) now video record my public behaviour, and purchase a ‘relationship’ with Facebook?
  • The Disney Corp. has my fingerprints (Apple too) and my vacation photos. Who’s preventing them from telling everyone my favourite rides?

If we’re not feeling a growing loss of anonymity, we probably should be. That 97.25 percent is going to soon be well above 99%, and if the authenticity of a photo’s creation and authorship can be established… there are going to be both good and evil possibilities that need to be considered.

Now, where is my GPS tracking, fingerprint-authenticating, device? I have to go take a few ‘selfies’ at a hockey tournament with my son this weekend.


  1. David Collier-Brown

    Actually it’s also “as bad as your brain”.

    Humans are fooled regularly by the “birthday paradox”, which causes false positives at an exploding number as the people compared goes up

    For example, if the number of people N is 25, the false identification rate is something like 25+24+23+22 … +3+2+1+(1-0.97) = 8.9

    Good for looking for grandma in a photo-album, but not for finding doubtful characters in an airport with N in the thousands. That kind of rate gets grandma arrested as a terrorist (;-))

    This is, of course, a problem in that Apple and Facebook cause you to think you’ve just found an elderly terrorist, even if the cops know better.

  2. David Collier-Brown

    Closer to being on-topic, one consideration that strikes me as apropos is the principle that a business only has the right to retain someone’s personal information for the duration of the business transaction that it is needed for.

    The library (and library software) community rather famously only keeps who-borrowed-what records until the books is returned or paid for. They’ve been privacy-sensitive since the first lending library was descended on by a person wanting to know what their spouse had been reading.

    I wonder how long Apple and Mickey are allowed to keep Mr. Matthews’ fingerprints. How long they would be able to if they were here, or in Germany?

    More importantly, what business purpose could Facebook quote for running their customer’s photo albums through a recognizer?