It was a stalker’s dream come true.
Earlier this week, tech outlets jumped on the story of Facezam, an app that claimed that it could identify people by matching a photo of them with their Facebook profile.
The app was reportedly created by founder Jack Kenyon, who said the idea came to him while playing with Shazam, the app that recognises almost any song it hears. Thinking the same thing could be applied to faces, Kenyon made “Facezam”, which he said worked by scanning “billions of Facebook profile images in a second.”
Almost immediately, people started going into a tailspin about the privacy implications. “This is spooky!….Privacy is truly dead!”, they cried. However, it now looks like we can just calm down because, like a lot of news on the internet these days, this is FAKE.
Not long after announcing the app, the website updated its content (perhaps at the behest of Facebook?) and confessed that the whole thing was a hoax. The app was built by a viral marketing agency called Zacozo, who seem to be using it as a stunt to attract clients. The angle is: “We tricked you suckers!….Wanna hire us?”
One place where something like Facezam isn’t fake is in Russia.
On Russian Facebook knock-off VKontakte, which is apparently more lenient about facial recognition rights, there is a plugin called FindFace. Last year, The Guardian reported that Findface works in much the same way that Facezam pretended to. By comparing photos of people to profile pictures on VKontakte, the plugin claims that it is able to discover people’s identities with 70 per cent reliability.
Of course, Facebook has the power to do something similar but has so far chosen not to go down this road. We all hope they don’t, but as noted by The Verge, that’s Facebook’s decision to make, not ours.
This is not the first time in recent memory that tech news outlets have been duped.
Last month, Techly reported on a story that was doing the rounds about doing the peace sign in photos, and how that would lead to identify theft. That story turned out not to be a hoax but an exaggeration. Well, let’s just say it was the result of “overenthusiastic reporting”. And with April Fools just around the corner, you can expect more soon. You’ll have to be extra vigilant on April 1.
The saddest part about Facezam is not that people were tricked but that it could be true. It’s almost like we are already resigned to the fact that we have zero privacy, even though we aren’t quite there yet.
To paraphrase prog rocker Frank Zappa, “Privacy is not dead, it just smells funny.”