Face Recognition and Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality

Privacy and Security, Cloud Computing and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


Alessandro Acquisti, Ralph Gross and Frederic Stutzman


Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 1-20, 2014


Billions of photographs are posted online, and facial recognition software is becoming more accurate. Researchers used photographs and off-the-shelf software to identify strangers in public places by name and predict their interests.

Policy Relevance

People are unaware that today’s technology allows one to quickly identify strangers.

Main Points

  • Google, Facebook, and Apple use facial recognition technology to help users label and sort photographs; the technology is controversial but might be too late to stop.
  • Facial recognition software and photos posted to Facebook were used to re-identify users of an online dating site (online to online recognition); about 1 in 10 of the online dating images were identified by their real names.
  • Facebook images associated with a certain college were compared with photographs of volunteers taken on campus (online to offline recognition).
    • About half wrongly believed that their Facebook images were not publicly available.
    • About one third of the volunteers were identified.
  • In this study, a phone app was used to compare a photograph of a stranger with a database of social network data, generate a profile that includes her interests, and predict the first digits of her social security number.
  • In future, one might search for someone’s face online, just as one searches for a name.
  • Successful matches on a large scale require a database containing correctly identified images; social networks provide such a database.
  • We instinctively expect that strangers in a crowd will not be able to identify us, but this might not be true in future.


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