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Opinion: Is facial recognition tech cool or creepy? Consider the issues

Nov 13, 2012   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

by Leigh Goessl (Guest contributor/Digital Journalist)

Over the past several years, facial recognition technology has sparked some controversy leading many to question whether or not the technology is “cool” or “creepy”.

Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Facial recognition is a rapidly growing technology. As this innovation progresses, the capabilities have significantly expanded over the past several years. The capacity of what it can accomplish is pretty amazing when you think about it.

For instance, earlier this year it was announced Hitachi Kokusai Electric had developed a security camera that could process a whopping 36 million faces in one second. Facebook has integrated the technology in its network to automatically suggest who the identity of the photo is and suggest a tag.

Surveillance in general has become a way of life, but facial recognition isn’t necessarily inclusive. At least, not yet. Currently facial recognition is being used, or at least considered, in various ways including social media, law enforcement and commercial business. The possibilities sound pretty fascinating, however, digging deeper into these possibilities illuminates some issues.

Facial recognition in the commercial sphere

As with most technologies that have become widely available in the last two decades, facial recognition technology is rapidly entering the commercial realm, both in-person and online.NEC, a Japanese company, has recently developed a new facial recognition system that is designed for retailers. 

Gizmodo reported the software has capability to “determine the age and gender of shoppers, and tracks how long and how often they visit a given store. The collected data can be used by a retailer to analyze trends in who exactly is visiting its stores, and what they can do to encourage repeat visits.”

Not to mention, while Facebook is currently only using the technology for photo tagging, the question begs asking, could this change in the future and its uses be expanded? It is important to note, Facebook has not said it would, but realistically, Facebook or any other social network could consider it down the road now that the door has been opened.

Over time the personal information of consumers has become a commodity, it is not hard to imagine the value biometric data could generate for commercial purposes.Security issuesCompanies buy and sell consumer information on a routine basis, and, as a result, mass quantities of data have been compiled. This has become an attractive target for criminals as data breaches are an ongoing and growing problem. As such, security is a huge concern, and many experts feel not enough companies pay due care to it.

As biometric data on consumers is compiled, physical attributes have high potential to also become a commodity, and perhaps also put personal identity at further risk. Imagine the damage criminals can inflict once they get their hands on this information?

Last year a team of researchers conducted a study which concluded identities and personal information, including Social Security numbers, could be traced by using facial recognition software and social media profiles.”

A person’s face is the veritable link between her offline and online identities,” Alessandro Acquisti, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, and associate professor of information technology and public policy at the Heinz College, had said in 2011. “When we share tagged photos of ourselves online, it becomes possible for others to link our face to our names in situations where we would normally expect anonymity.”

Privacy issues

As with other technologies, facial recognition creates issues with privacy. The Internet was once widely anonymous, as was walking down a busy city street, however these days, not so much.While discounts and other deals may be enticing, essentially privacy is given up in exchange. If the aforementioned NEC product becomes widely used in commercialism, consumers will be giving up a wealth of information to businesses. It is not clear yet whether or not this will be with or without consumer consent.

The technology is moving so fast that last month the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a set of “Best Practices” guidelines for companies using or planning to use facial recognition technologies. This list addresses both security and privacy concerns, and appears to be proactive in considering ways facial recognition might be used in the future.”

First, they should obtain consent before using consumers’ images or any biometric data in a different way than they represented when they collected the data,” the FTC wrote in its report [PDF]. ”

Second, companies should not use facial recognition to identify anonymous images of a consumer to someone who could not otherwise identify him or her, without obtaining the consumer’s affirmative consent first.”

What about creepy?

In many ways, big brother has long arrived, but widespread use of facial recognition kicks it up several notches. While businesses can potentially offer benefits to consumers through tracking of biometrics and shopping behaviors, it’s hard to say it’s not creepy.

Consider government tracking and public surveillance; factor in extensive consumer tracking, this pretty much will capture a full profile of one’s lifestyle and decision making process made throughout the course of the day.This, of course, would become valuable data in both the government and commercial sense.

Is it really worth the tradeoffs?

Technology moves at a much faster pace than any laws that address privacy and/or security. Unfortunately, many organizations and businesses run with fantastic visions, focusing on the “cool” factor without looking at the full picture of how their decisions may have a long-term impact on the broader society.

Chances are the technology will be widely implemented in time either way, but if businesses consider the wider impact, perhaps some of the aforementioned issues can be mitigated with proactive planning.“

Fortunately, the commercial use of facial recognition technologies is still young. This creates a unique opportunity to ensure that as this industry grows, it does so in a way that respects the privacy interests of consumers while preserving the beneficial uses the technology has to offer,” the FTC staff report had said.

If any of these new innovations are employed in the near future, Big Brother will have arrived in a big way. However one feels about facial recognition technology, a question everyone, both consumers and organizational decision makers, should perhaps be asking themselves is whether or not the tradeoffs are worth the benefits?

With limited use and consideration of the bigger picture, perhaps some aspects of facial recognition could be beneficial, however should definitely not be a free for all and consumer consent should be a consideration.

What do you think? “Creepy” direction or “cool” possibilities?

This article originally appeared in Digital Journal [Link]

Facebook testing project that gives shoppers free Wi-Fi

Nov 9, 2012   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

by Leigh Goessl (Guest contributor/Digital Journalist)

Facebook is currently testing a new project that would give shoppers free wireless Internet access. If successful, it might not be long before Facebook Wi-Fi comes to a store near you.

Los Angeles Times reported that a Facebook spokesperson told the paper the free Wi-Fi test is being run in retail stores and coffee shops in Menlo Park, where the social network giant is based.

According to Inside Facebook, developer Tom Waddington noticed the new service, which is currently being called “Facebook Wi-Fi”.

Waddington was the first person to notice Facebook’s “want” button was being designed.Inside Facebook reports:

Developer Tom Waddington, who also discovered Facebook testing the Want button plugin and possibly promoted messages, first tipped us off to this when he found a new entry called “social wifi” in the “Like sources” section of the Insights API. The explanation for the entry is “People who liked your page after checking in via Facebook Wi-Fi.

Facebook confirmed the new project in a statement to Inside Facebook that indicated the social network is “currently running a small test with a few local businesses of a Wi-Fi router that is designed to offer a quick and easy way to access free Wi-Fi after checking in on Facebook.”

How Facebook’s Wi-Fi service works is that the social network is providing businesses with the router and the companies pay for the Internet service. Members that use Facebook’s “Check In” are redirected to the business’ Facebook page (users do have the option to set the Check In to “only me” if they do not want their location publicly disclosed).

Stores may offer the individual a deal or special, Facebook told CNET. After visiting the business’ Facebook page, users can then access the Internet.Additionally, people that do not want to check in and be tracked, or those who do not have a Facebook account, can ask the business for a special passcode to still access the Web.

The concept was created at one of Facebook’s hackathon events.

This project comes at a time when Facebook stock continues to struggle. Since the company went public in May 2012, the stock has not had a strong performance. Yesterday, the stock’s worth still hovered around $20 as the market closed.

Reuters reported, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, has already sold millions of dollars of stock and Forbes reported she continues to sell.

Next week will be telling as the next IPO lockup period expires on Nov. 14, many additional shareholders will be permitted to sell stock, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. However, Zuckerberg has said he won’t sell any of his shares before Sept. 2013.

This article originally appeared in Digital Journal [Link]

Toronto Star to introduce paywall in early 2013

Oct 29, 2012   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  1 Comment

by Andrew Moran (Guest contributor/Digital Journalist)

Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank announced Monday plans to introduce a paywall structure in 2013. Complete details of the proposed plan have not been released, but it is in line with other Toronto outlets, such as the Globe and Mail.

What other news organization in Toronto is going to enforce a paywall? That is the question on the mind of many Torontonians, who have been used to reading the news on the Internet for free for many, many years.

Readers who headed on over to the TheStar.com on Monday morning may have been surprised (or not surprised depending on your aptitude on the business of media) to learn that the Toronto Star is going to implement a paywall, a measure that offers its visitors a paid-subscription for full access to its content.

“This move will provide a new source of revenue for the Star that will help support our ability to provide readers of both our print and online editions with the best and most comprehensive package of news and information in Canada,” wrote Cruickshank in the announcement. “Under the plan, most print subscribers to the Toronto Star will receive free full access to thestar.com’s content, wherever and however they want.”

Full aspects of the subscription have yet to be released, including the costs, how to register and what features readers can access.The purpose of the subscription is to generate another tool of revenues, while also providing more news stories, video content and podcasts of news from across the Greater Toronto Area and elsewhere in Canada and around the world.

“These additional revenues will strengthen our ability to invest in quality journalism, both in print and online, and provide the high quality of news, information and opinion that our readers throughout the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada have come to expect from the Star,” added Cruickshank. “They will also allow the Star to bolster its long-standing focus on delivering accurate local, national and international news that matters to our readers.”

The Toronto Star joins the likes of the Globe and Mail and National Post of Toronto outlets adding a paywall. In the United States, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have performed the same thing. If the Star is looking to make extra revenue, the New York Times posted its third quarter numbers, which include an 85 percent drop in profits.

Some of its readers have already commented that they will not pay for something that they can receive for free elsewhere. Google News offers hundreds of news agencies that provide the news of the day at no cost, such as the Associated Press and Reuters.

This article originally appeared on Digital Journal [Link]

Apple announces new 7.9-inch iPad mini, available Nov. 2

Oct 23, 2012   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments


by David Silverberg

Today Apple unveiled details of its new iPad mini, at 7.9 inches, small enough to hold in one hand. It’s an incredibly 7.2-millimeter thin, weighs half as much as any iPad and battery life reaches 10 hours. The tablet will cost $329 minimum.

At the California Theatre in sunny San Jose, Apple revealed the specs of its new iPad mini tablet, available for pre-order Oct. 26.

What can you do with the iPad mini? Hold it in one hand first of all, said Philip W. Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple. As thin as a pencil, the iPad mini is similar to the Nexus 7 in terms of size and look. It weighs .68 pounds and boasts 10 hour of battery life.The new tablet features the A5 chip, HD-quality FaceTime camera, a 5-megapixel backside camera, and 802.11N WiFi.

The Wi-Fi version will cost $329 (16GB).Wi-Fi versions of the iPad mini will ship first on Nov. 2 to select countries, and the cellular+Wi-Fi version will be available worldwide two weeks later.

Also, the company announced that the iPad would enjoy an update. The new full-sized iPad will now come with a Lightning port. A6X and expanded LTE will be added to the iPad as well. Schiller said the A6X doubles the performance compared to the previous generation, and it’s priced at $499 for the 16GB version.

Apple wasn’t done. The company revealed details of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, with “pixels so small that at normal viewing distance, your eye can’t tell the difference,” Schiller said.

The press release states: “At 227 pixels per inch, the Retina display’s pixel density is so high the human eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels at a normal viewing distance, so images look sharp and text looks like it does on the printed page.

It boasts a 75 percent of reduced reflection than the previous MacBook Pro. It offers seven hours of battery life, Schiller said. It’s available today and the 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor version with 128GB of flash storage is priced at $1,699, he added.Then CEO Tim Cook discussed the new iMac, both the 21.5-incher and the 27-inch version. Featuring an incredible 5 mm thin screen, the computer is 80 percent lighter than its predecessor. It boasts a FaceTime HD Camera, dual microphones, over 300 nits of brightness and a new drive called Fusion Drive (128GB) that automatically places your most popular apps in the faster Flash drive.

The 21-inch iMac, at 2.7GHz processing power, is available in November and will cost $1,299. The 27-inch version, at 2.9GHz, will hit shelves in December and will set you back $1,799.

This article originally appeared in Digital Journal [Link]

Squeeze platform measures your content’s virality on social media

Oct 17, 2012   //   by admin   //   Media blog  //  No Comments

by David Silverberg

When we tweet or post links on Facebook, it’s hard to tell if anyone is clicking on them. Sure, a retweet and a “like” can give us a clue to the link’s popularity, but many people can click on a tweet, say, and never retweet it. How can we find out if our social media efforts are effective?

Along comes Squeeze to give us a peek into that world. Developed by Toronto-based Sequentia Environics, the newly launched Squeeze measures how many people clicked on links on various social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Sequentia believes the new product will make it simpler for marketers or journalists to see what actions are successful, and which need some tweaking.

“We’re shocked to learn how large enterprises on Fortune 50 list were using Excel to measure social sentiment monitoring,” says Jennifer Evans, Founder and Chief Strategist at Sequentia. “Their work didn’t tell them anything about how their content generated leads.”

Evans and her team came up with Squeeze in order to give marketers and execs a much-needed hand in learning how their social media time was being spent. Were people clicking more on infographics in Twitter, or on questions posed as tweets? Did Facebook encourage more engagement than Google+? What day delivered the best results? Squeeze wants to deliver those results, in real-time.

We tested out Squeeze for several weeks and we found the platform to be simple and powerful. We learned quickly how Facebook links seem to attract more visitors than tweets, and a dashboard nicely lays out graphics on where traffic came from. We also liked the feature showing us the best time to deploy content, from the day of week to the time of day we’d most likely see high engagement.

A channel comparison chart told us what social media outlet saw the most virality, something we often came back to when considering where to post links.

“Squeeze lets you see great analytics and how everything fits together,” Evans says. She adds many other social media channels can be integrated into Squeeze, such as an image on Pinterest (as long as it has a dedicated URL) or a YouTube video, if a link is placed in the clip description space.

Sequentia isn’t the only player in this space. bit.ly is well known for analyzing your links, but its free service is limited: it will only connect to Facebook and Twitter, and you can’t customize what channels to measure. Also, the Enterprise version of bit.ly costs minimum $995 a month, while Squeeze’s upcoming paid features will be priced at $500/month, for the top Enterprise version. For a scaled-back version at $50/month, users can get unlimited form integration (for those doing newsletters), unlimited content assets, and one year of data retention.

As social media and marketing continue to intersect, tools like Squeeze will become more prevalent for content creators hoping for deeper analytics. It’s not enough to see mentions on Twitter; to truly gauge your online performance, you need apps delivering timely info to determine if you need to send out that link to the masses.

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