Is Facebook’s 10 Year Challenge an Effort to Mine Data?

You have probably seen the 10 Year Challenge on Facebook where you post a picture of you your first profile picture and your most recent. 5.2 million people were quick to do it but many others have been reluctant, fearing that Facebook would use this to mine data or that it will be used for much more nefarious purposes. Are these fears grounded in reality or is there nothing to worry about?

The Fear

Facebook has not maintained a stellar reputation with its user base and it is well know that they sell their user’s data. Users are not happy about that and they believe that Facebook will use this information to bundle and sell to whoever will pay good money to purchase it.

This is not new. Facebook is full of personality quizzes for users to take. Ever wonder what kind of potato you would be or which character on WKRP in Cincinnati you would be? You can find out but that information will be mined and some of these quizzes can even be scams. Think Cambridge Analytica. Many people though are wary about including personal information in any of these quizzes or challenges and that may be the best idea for anyone taking part.

Is there reason to be worried?

The simple answer to that is no. Your Facebook profile pictures are already in Facebook. They know reasonably when the picture was taken so therefore they really don’t need any of your information. Your profile picture is also public, anyone in the world can pull up your profile and see it and there is nothing that you can do about it. Facebook already has this information so there is no reason to unnecessarily worry, you’ve already given them the information.

A real fear?

There is a legitimate fear with this that many people have articulated. There is a belief that this challenge is being used to help facial recognition software learn how to cope with aging. This challenge will certainly provide a broad data set to anyone who would have access to the pictures, something necessary to perfect it. If someone wants pictures of what someone looked like 10 years ago when compared to today it is easy to find on a person’s Facebook profile but it would take time to compile this many profiles. This challenge though would just make it easier for anyone to find while filtering out the useless noise that comes with other profile pictures. Facebook has claimed that this challenge has nothing to do with them and it was started by a third party user.

Facial recognition software is advancing quickly, not only being able to pick a person out of a crowd but also being able to determine who someone is by the way they walk (more on that next week). By being able to use this software to account for aging it could be possible to pick anyone out of a crowd. By being able to determine the characteristics of how people age not only can it be determined what that person would potentially look like later in life, they would also be able to apply that to others as well.

What could come from this?

Being able to account for aging has benefits. Being able make a more than educated guess about how a criminal who is trying to create a new identity could lead to that person being captured. It could also aid in the rescue of anyone who has been abducted. Knowing how that person might age or what they would look like with a change in characteristics like facial hair could be what prompts someone to make a connection, especially with children.

Some believe that something like this could be used against them. The most common argument is that an insurance company could use this to see if someone is prematurely aging and deny coverage or charge more based on them being a risk. It could also be potentially used to track law abiding citizens or people engaging in lawful protests. Something like that may not be a problem in China but in the US it is. Amazon was set to market a system like this but bowed to pressure from employees, shareholders and the ACLU to halt it. Google has also trained its software to pick out objects and people in a picture to aid in searches.

Now to be fair no one has claimed that they are using this challenge for this purpose. Of course it would be doubtful if Facebook would admit it anyway and their track record of transparency is less than stellar. The thing is, something like this is inevitable. This information is publicly available and to think that it wouldn’t be used for something like this is probably a bit naive. Of course if somebody wants it, it might be best to make them do a little bit of work for it rather than handing it to them on a silver platter. The biggest issue seems to come down to transparency. If a company treats a person’s information with respect and does not abuse it people might be more willing to go along with this knowing that their data and themselves will not be abused.

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