Facebook’s biometric database

As reported, I found Mikko Hypponen’s contribution the most valuable part of TEDx Brussels. His insight, one-liners, unrelenting de-construction of the counter-arguments pro-surveillance… that’s the sort of razor-sharp thinking that cuts through the myths and obfuscation that permeates so much of the tech debate. (Will post link as soon as it’s available). I can only daydream about how Hypponen would have taken apart NSA-boss Keith Alexander’s defense at the House intelligence committee on Tuesday. Hypponen’s conclusion that open-source software is the solution is looks like a shortfall compared to the insights of the analysis. To me, that is a nostalgic perspective on the internet, where everyone has the best intentions and the wisdom of the crowds can and will replace traditional modes of production and knowledge. Not that I have anything against open-source software per se, in fact this web magazine runs on WordPress which is open-source. I only think expectations on it are often out of proportion.

Now, the revealings of how internet services release private information to US security agencies brings up another topic from TEDx Brussels: biometric data. So we share our opinions and movements and it gets picked up by the government. But what about our bodies and all the data about that? Genome scanning on a large scale is still a few-years into the future, but finger prints are everyday stuff, which anyone who has passed Immigrations on the US border or owns a laptop with  a fingerprint encryption scanner will know. And what about our faces? Automatic facial recognition has been a research field since the 50’s but it’s still nowhere near perfection. Plus the data in systems like crime databases is far from enough to make a useful system. However, there is one huge database of faces connected to names and we all contributed voluntarily: Facebook. In fact, these days staying off Facebook for privacy reasons is so suspicious it will soon be exclusive to actual lunatics. So Facebook is on its way to a complete index of faces and names, at least in our part of the world. That position demands great care, so far we can only trust Facebook to use it responsibly as there is no regulation or similar in place to deal with this. Read more on facial recognition in this National Public Radio-story. And ask yourself what Mikko Hypponen would say about it.