The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

With facial recognition available to the masses, privacy through anonymity may go out the window 

Sorting photos is a tedious task. Even more tedious is writing the names of everyone on the back of the print or tagging all of the digital pics so you won't forget who is who. Well, that tedium is now in the past thanks to a new service that brings advanced facial recognition to the masses! You can upload all your pics to Riya, tell them which person in grandma and all pics with grandma in 'em will be tagged. You can tag your sister, your friend and anyone else you like. And if there's a stranger in your photos who you don't know (but Riya does), your photo will be tagged with the stranger's name. What could be cooler than that?

Jennifer Granick over at Wired News (Face It: Privacy Is Endangered) isn't so impressed. Up to now, facial recognition has been only used by law enforcement and some big businesses with large security budgets. Riya brings it to everyone who wants to sign up.

As Granick writes:

Riya also relies on meta tags, but uses facial-recognition software to create them automatically. Subscribers upload photos, and then tell the Riya software who the person is. By repeatedly running the recognition algorithm against multiple photos of the same person, Riya software eventually learns to identify other images of the same face. Once trained, the software will automatically generate meta tags, and users can search their own photos and the photos of other subscribers.

The service currently only searches photos uploaded to its servers. The technology could, however, be deployed across the internet, allowing people to search the web, Flickr, Tribe and Friendster photo sets, regardless of whether the owner or the person photographed wants to be identified. That's where things get interesting.

Mothers could search and find pictures of their children at a party when they were supposed to be studying at a friend's house. Insurers could search and find a photo of a customer bungee-jumping, and raise the daredevil's premiums. I predict that the tool will be invaluable to former (and future) boyfriends and girlfriends checking up on lovers.

In the analog days, when you left your house, there was always a possibility that you might run into someone who would remember what you were doing, and tell anyone who cared enough to ask. In a digital world, you do not know if someone is taking your picture -- with a camera, a webcam or a cell phone -- and the image can be stored forever and searched by people you do not know, at any point in time, without your knowledge and at little or no cost to the searcher.

Even in public, we used to enjoy some privacy, if only in our anonymity. Facial-recognition technology is one reason that's increasingly less true.

You can check out the service at Thanks to David Canton for pointing out the Wired article.


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