Yesterday Google announced the latest version of its Picasa photo album software which uses facial recognition to track who is in each photo. Anyone can tag a photo with your name and Google will keep that facial fingerprint of you indefinitely.
The new feature, dubbed ‘name tags,’ is designed to help you automatically track which of your friends and family are in the pictures that you upload. The feature starts by grouping pictures of people that look similar and asks you to tag who is in the picture. Once you label a photo with a clear view of someone’s face, Google will then use facial recognition to tag any subsequent photos of them.
The default setting is that other people that view your pictures cannot see the people you have tagged, but does that mean that the information is private? While many of us have entrusted some level of private information to Google, our facial recognition profile is at the core of our identity. Further, it may be your sweet Aunt or Grandmother that hands over your identity to the company, unbeknownst to you.
Another problem arises when one of your friends decides to make their name tags public. You could see pictures labeled with your name popping up on the Web without your knowledge. While this information is not necessary included in search results, it can still prove problematic.
This is also a larger issue for parents with small children. Other family members could tag photos of your child on the Internet. If a predator were to find pictures labeled with a location and a full name, he could gather enough information on your child to pose as a family friend in an attempt to lure your child from safety.
What is Google’s advice on keeping your children safe? If you happen to actually notice the tag, all you can do is to contact the owner of the album and ask them to make it private. This reactive method seems more akin to trying to slam the lid on Pandora’s Box than an actual privacy control for your identity.