Your Face is Big Data – and valuable!

By Keith Laker

In a widely reported story this week, Russian photographer Egor Tsvetkov provided evidence in a paper entitled ‘Your Face is Big Data’ as to just how easy it is to identify individuals from photographs posted on line.   Using the face-recognition website Find Face, Tsvetkov was able to discover extensive personal information about many of the otherwise anonymous photos he had taken. Cara McGoogan’s article in the Telegraph provides one of the more detailed descriptions of Tsvetkov’s findings.

This is not just a privacy issue.  Big companies are already masters of Big Data and as this type of facial recognition software improves – as it inevitably will – it will mean that targeted advertising becomes even more widespread and specific.   No longer will it be based on your physical location or even your browsing habits, but it will be based on the advertisers knowledge of your employment, income bracket, hobbies, social status and a host of other personal criteria. For the most part, personal privacy will have been sacrificed on the altar of commercial greed. And yet curiously it is that commercial greed that unexpectedly holds within it the prospect of a solution that is both innovative and effective.

In 2012 the Image Rights (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance was introduced, offering for the first time, anywhere, the ability to register one’s own image as personal property. It is not a privacy law – but crucially it is designed to prevent third parties commercially exploiting the use of any image recognisable as the registered personality without the consent of that personality.   Once registered, it lets you choose who gets to benefit from your likeness.   In simple terms, you own your public personality in way not otherwise possible.

Limiting the use of one’s likeness is one thing but what if you wish to exploit it? Jaron Lanier’s book ‘Who Owns the Future’ 1 presents a convincing case for the convergence of micro-payment systems, image rights and Big Data in the near future that should – in theory – allow for the payment of use of personal image (or data) by the Big Data users. This assumes that Big Data companies will choose to adopt such a model.   The registration of personality as personal intellectual property provides both the incentive and mechanism for this to become a reality.

As we state elsewhere in our website: Personality is unique. Personality has value. Protect it. Commercialize it. Cherish it. But don’t lose it!

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1 Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? Allen Lane: 2013. ISBN 1846145228