Art project uses public photos, facial recognition to discover social media profiles

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Blurring the lines between appearing in public and being identified online, a artist in Russia used face recognition technology to discover people’s social media profiles based on photographs taken in public without their knowledge or prior consent.

Entitled “Your Face is Big Data,” Egor Tsetkov’s art project uses free software to identify faces among the 55 million people on Russian social media website VKontakte.

Tsetkov simply captured images of men and women on the train, staring at their phones. Using a free app called FindFace, he was able to find the social media accounts of some 70 percent of those he photographed, according to Russia Beyond the Headlines.

The 21-year-old photographer noted that the images of people in public were often in significant contrast from their online profiles, which typically portray ideal versions of ourselves that are more interesting, outgoing and exciting.

The ultimate goal for the project was to highlight how new digital technologies, especially those that can identify us with a simple picture, diminish our personal privacy.

“My project is a clear illustration of the future that awaits us if we continue to disclose as much about ourselves on the internet as we do now,” Tsetkov said.

Recent estimates have suggested that the market for facial recognition technology will grow to some $6.84 billion by 2021. The largest investments in the next half-decade are expected to come in software, where clear images at night or in low-light situations will make it even easier to identify someone in public.