If You Think Alexa Is Worrying …

… then consider this …

Some considerable number of years ago, this chap…devised a direct-mail fundraiser for an AIDS-assistance charity that was, unusually, profitable on first mailing. Its success was due to a search algorithm, applied to publicly-available data, that identified likely male gay couples living together.

The beneficiaries closed the project down, immediately. And in the uncertain social/legal climate of the times, it was, and remains, hard to fault their decision.

So, suffice to say ‘rattled’ comes to mind, as he read that image recognition has progressed to the point that it can produce equivalent results just from video of people in public places. ID a ‘dressy’ restaurant, to go in the ‘Near You’ search results? OK… ID a place where a lot of men are hanging out, who may be gay? Well…. In Tehran? Oh. But, wait, couldn’t that be…

Several years ago, a small tech company called Jetpac identified and categorised the content of 150 million photos posted publicly on Instagram to build a directory of businesses searchable by their characteristics. If the photos taken at a restaurant showed a lot of mouths wearing lipstick, Jetpac’s app would tag the spot as “dressy.” If most of the faces in a photo of a bar were male, it would tag the spot as a gay bar. (Jetpac was acquired by Google in 2014.)

How about analysing facial features, backed by fingerprints, of people in a known immigrant/radical area, see who is associating with whom and where they go together, how they feel about each other? Science fiction, surely…

Emotient, a company acquired by Apple in 2016 that developed software to identify emotional sentiments from camera feeds in real time. With a single high-resolution camera, Emotient’s algorithms can simultaneously ‘read’ the emotional microexpressions on the faces of 400 people gathered in an area … say, a lecture hall or shopping mall.

This Chap is unsure which is more or less worrying — the idea that private interests can gather this data without protection for you — or the idea they can then sell it to other parties, without trace. Pass me that hat, would you?

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Going somewhere?

Yup … Offline.