Copyrighting Your Face

Hollow Face Illusion by Grand Illusions

Hollow Face Illusion by Grand Illusions

Original Post: 23 April 2008

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s blog entry “1984”.

Most of us know about “tracking cookies” (and not the chocolate chip kind which I crave!).  Tracking cookies help advertisers and websites know when we’ve visited and about our shopping preferences.  Cookies and similar technology help websites tell us “Welcome back, Bill … since you bought that book on wine making we have some other vitner’s cookbooks you might be interested in …”

Recognizing Video
Could such technology be applied to video?
We all know video cameras are really everywhere.  Oh, they are pretty well hidden, especially in businesses.  Occasionally we’ll glance up and see the mirrored half-sphere hanging from a post, but rarely will we give it a passing thought.
What happens, though, as video computing and detection technology improves?   By “computing and detection technology”, I mean computers which can recognize video images.   Already the City of Seattle has deployed police vehicles with cameras which can recognize license plates as the car drives down the street.  This technology is used to find stolen cars.  We know Google and others are working hard to make this technology much more usable – to recognize faces from photos and video, for example.  This, in turn, presages a day when that video camera in the bank can actually capture your face, recognize who you are, and, for example, allow a bank teller to actually greet you by name and have your account information up on the screen when you approach the teller window.  Indeed, such technology could allow almost complete automation of bank teller windows and ATM machines.
This use of such technology seems innocuous.  But suppose, as you walk down the street, a video camera captures your face, recognizes you, determines (via a database) that you like hazelnut lattes and sends a text message sent to your cell phone that, if you turn into the coffee shop on the left you can get 10% off a grande hazelnut latte? 

Death of Anonymity
Will we get to the day where no one is really anonymous walking down the street?  Indeed, as a recent Hillary Clinton political ad used stock video footage of a sleeping child (who turned out to be an Obama supporter), will we need to copyright our faces to make sure they are not used without our permission?  Again, I’m not so sure we have government to fear here (because of regulation and public disclosure laws) so much as the never-ending drive of our consumption-oriented, advertising-driven society to sell us more “stuff”.


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