By now everyone has seen the “10-year challenge” meme: you share a photo of yourself from a decade ago alongside another that’s recent. It’s a way to show friends how well – or how poorly – you've aged, and to share and comment on photos of others on social media. Seems like harmless fun, right?
Maybe, but maybe not.
The perfect data set
No one is sure where the “challenge” originated, and questions are arising about whether it’s a data mine for facial recognition software. It’s easy to see how that’s possible, because the meme incorporates the perfect data set: millions of people self-attesting that this photo is them 10 years ago, and that one is them now, attached to the same identity.
Your face is increasingly becoming a key part of your online identity. Giving it out without securing it could come back to haunt you.
The old notion of a photo – a moment in time, captured and shared with family and close friends in an innocuous setting – is long gone. Photos can be weaponized and used to attack your online identity, to defraud you, even to break into your devices.
Those pics are part of your biometric data
Biometric data include your face, your thumbprint, retinal scans, and in China software has been developed that can even identify people solely by the way they walk! “Gait recognition” surveillance may (hopefully) never be part of life in the Western world, but other less obvious ways of tracking people are on the rise, such as DNA kits sold by various companies, some of whom disclose in their terms of service that by participating, you grant royalty-free, perpetual licence to your DNA to the company doing the testing.
These DNA kits could reveal that you have a genetic disease, and if that info were ever sold to insurance companies, that could adversely impact you and your family.
How private do we need to become?
Photo sharing is huge and it’s getting people in major trouble, from the “sextortion” of Tony Clement, to “deepfakes” that create a realistic depiction of someone from the massive volume of available photos, applying their image to videos that look scarily legitimate.
The more images of yourself out there, the more data there is to work with, and the easier it is for your image to be weaponized against you.
It’s probably not realistic to tell people to stop sharing photos of themselves online, but it doesn’t hurt to be skeptical and think carefully about how your participation in these things – DNA testing kits, quizzes on social media, trends like the 10-year challenge – could be used against you.
Privacy is not dead!
If anything, privacy is more important now than ever, as tech users are realizing that the more info they give out, the more they may be compromising their identity – their whole life. Privacy requires people to be educated and empowered about the limits and failings of technology, and to act accordingly.