Is your faceprint public domain?

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Google and Facebook think so. They take uploaded photos from your account (or photos other people upload that you may appear in) and scan the photos to create face templates. These templates can then be used for a host of applications – from biometric security gateways to facial recognition for tagging people in photos.

Google was sued over their faceprint applications in the state of Illinois but the case was thrown out. Not only did the plaintiff (who argued their privacy was violated and that the Illinois biometric law was violated) fail to demonstrate how they were harmed, the judge ruled that faceprints are public domain. After all, your face is actually more accessible to the public than your social security number, when you think about it.

But at some point will society become as it was portrayed in the film, Minority Report? Where our faces and eyes are scanned at every corner as a measure for not only security, but for selling us t-shirts at The Gap? Does that bother you? Will this lack of perceived privacy result in societal agoraphobia? Will it eliminate crime? Probably neither… but as we see more and more use of video as a means to keep us safe from would-be porch pirates or keeping us honest at intersections, our faceprints are essentially instantaneous judge and jury. So next time you upload a photo, just know that you might not only be “saving it for safekeeping”, but you are sharing it with Google or Facebook, giving them your faceprint for future use. Smile!