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A Sense of Ownership

Singapore: facial recognition

The distance between you here (your physical presence) and you there (your public and private online presence) is closing. How might this affect us? And what can you do about it?

Digital payments, cellular tracking, ticketing, what you like/Like, where you check-in, being tagged in a photo: there are umpteen ways to triangulate who you are, where you are, where you are going, and who you are going to be with. Of all of the methods through which you can be recognised (or triangulated) facial recognition is one of the more significant social disruptions, not because it is particularly novel but rather because our sense of who we are is very much tied how we look and how we look is disproportionately tied to our facial features.

Facial recognition will be a growing source of friction because the companies that are building businesses around connecting the physical you to some form of online identity will, over time connect people to the online you that makes them the most revenue, rather than the online you that makes the most sense to you. A lot of this will happen in the background, but there it will have sufficient visibility to be annoying e.g. a picture of your face as a search parameter triggering an advertisement for a particular kind of product.

All of us value a degree of anonymity, and a few will go to great extremes to maintain a high degree of control over their online and offline identity. For people who don’t want to be facially recognised (and acknowledging that facial recognition is but one parameter that can be used to identify you) there are different approaches to maintaining a comfortable distance between the physical and the online you – stealth wear and dazzle camouflage are but two examples, both by Adam Harvey. One approach that I’ve been mulling for a while is the subtle subversion the recognition process by seeding alternate versions of oneself – with just enough system recognisable data points there for the system to make a match, but with enough of a difference that to the human eye/mind it looks like a different person. Once that alternative photo-realistic identity is formed, it can then diverge from the real you over time.

And for other social disruptors consider for a moment this project on DNA profiling.

Photo: back alley graffiti from Little India in Singapore.