Social media is abuzz with now-and-then images of people from a decade ago, with thousands of users sharing photo collages of how they looked in 2009 vs 2019 across various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is being credited for the #10yearchallenge trend, which has gone viral since, but there are some conspiracy theories to challenge an innocent-looking nostalgia trip.
Facebook has been at the centre of data mining and privacy breach accusations, and experts are warning the trending "10-year challenge" meme could be yet another effort to mine valuable data. With artificial intelligence and facial recognition software going mainstream, companies are investing heavily in emerging technologies. The biggest investment that can be offered in boosting AI and facial recognition is data, which Facebook has access to through its billion-plus users.
The viral trend of people sharing then-and-now images of themselves serves as valuable intel for Facebook as it can easily train AI on how a person ages and improve facial recognition to predict future outcomes. While hundreds of thousands of people have already accepted the 10-year-challenge, people became aware of the possible nefarious purposes when Kate O'Neill's tweeted about the flip side of participating in the trend.
In a detailed post on Wired, O'Neill explained how photos of then and now posted side-by-side captioned with corresponding years serves a great opportunity for Facebook. While many users argued that the data shared as a part of the 10-year-challenge is already available on social media, the meme helps Facebook carefully curate photos without having to deal with any challenges of sifting through tons of data.
For instance, "Let's just imagine that you wanted to, say, train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics. You'd ideally want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people's pictures. It'd help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart - say 10 years," O'Neill explained.
"Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that's a lot of noise; it'd help if you had a clean then-and-now. What's more, the photo posting date and even EXIF data wouldn't always be reliable for when the pic was actually taken," she added.
Facial recognition today is so sophisticated that it can easily pick out human faces and trash anything that's irrelevant for its learning process, like then-and-now photos of your pets. O'Neill further listed three possibilities on how facial recognition could be used, and not all are evil.
Facial recognition turned out to be a great tool in tracking down 3,000 missing kids in four days last year in New Delhi. If the facial recognition can be trained to predict how you'll look like in, let's say, 10 years, it will be of great help in tracking missing victims or even suspects. Besides tracking age progression, it's also possible that this could be used for targeted advertisements. Finally, the simplest explanation to the #10yearchallenge could be that Facebook simple wanted users to engage with its platform more actively, especially since it has attracted a lot of bad press recently.
The then-and-now meme could only serve the purpose of taking you down the memory lane or as Facebook stated: "Facebook gains nothing from this meme (besides reminding us of the questionable fashion trends of 2009). As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time."
Treating users' data with due respect is a must for all the companies out there, but it is equally important that users must do their due diligence before sharing anything. Like the popular notion goes, everything you put on the internet is permanent, even if you decide to delete it later, someone, somewhere might have already shared or saved the content.
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