Google buys Riya, Steamrollers Your Pictures' Anonymity
Riya is a Redwood City startup that makes facial recognition software. Rumor from Om Malik says Google is buying them. I believe that this purchase has some of the farthest reaching privacy implications we’ve yet seen from Google.
Anonymity, in its most literal meaning of “without a name,” is the current state of many photographs on the web. The ability to do silly things, and be photographed, and share those photos with friends, is valuable. Also valuable is the ability to not share those photos with employers or parents. One very common way to do that is to put no names on the photos. Another is to protect the photos with a password, but that takes work to set up, and work to maintain.
There’s an expectation (right or wrong) that anonymous photos are just that: Even if someone finds them, its unlikely to be anyone who can identify those pictured. That no one will re-attach a name, because it’s not worth the effort.
Cue Google, with the world’s largest server farm, and a facial recognition technology they think works.
It’s often been stated that no one has a right to privacy in public, but we have had a very practical anonymity. That’s been fading away for a while, but the trend will accelerate. Look for everyone, not just politicians and Supreme Court nominees, to be asked to answer for their behavior thirty years ago.
Oh, and I have no idea who those women are, but I bet Google has their phone numbers. If you ask real nice, they might give them to you.