When the #10YearChallenge began on social media a few days ago, it seemed like a harmless trend. The challenge was to post one recent picture alongside a photo from ten years ago (or your first and most recent profile photo). An estimated 5.2 million people participated in the challenge.
It quickly became a meme on nearly all social media platforms, including Twitter, which is not otherwise popular for posting pictures. This resulted in some great Twitter moments when Mariah Carey posted two copies of the same photo, claiming time doesn’t affect her, and scientists posted pictures of glaciers that have melted significantly since 2009 to deliver a message about global warming.
The 10-year challenge has followed the social media trend blowing up and then burning out just a few short days or a week or two (at most) later. Now that the 10-year challenge is dying down, the whole endeavor is under scrutiny and tech experts are asking some interesting questions about it.
Kate O’Neill, the author of Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans made an interesting point that soon went viral just like the meme.
Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture aging meme going around on Facebook and Instagram
Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition
— Kate O'Neill (@kateo) January 12, 2019
Her tweet made us all rethink our willingness to participate in a trend that could so easily lead to something much more serious in near future. Thus began the online debate on whether the 10-year challenge hid a more sinister motive.
As the hype around the ten-year challenge dies down, the debate rages on. Whether Facebook deliberately benefited from the challenge is unclear.
When the tweet got traction on social media, O’Neill penned an article for Wired, explaining further. Her basic argument is that Facebook has a lot to gain by using the challenge to train its facial recognition AI to understand how faces age.
While many people argued that Facebook already had this data, participants served it to them on a silver platter: O’Neill made the point that Facebook would have had to do a lot of work to sift through and categorize the photos otherwise. People often don’t put up their pictures in chronological order or use their own photos as profile pictures. Moreover, the date on which they upload the pictures does not match the dates when they took the pictures. Even the EFIX data is not reliable for this detailed information. On the other hand, people using a hashtag and putting accurate data side-by-side is a gold mine for facial recognition AI algorithms.
The primary argument against the possibility of Facebook running an experiment (or possibly using the data later) is that the social media giant already has all the data it needs and the meme data constitutes a relatively small dataset.
The social media platform has been around for ages. Its user database consists of around two billion users. In the words of experts, the data from this challenge is nothing but drops in the bucket of data Facebook already sits upon.
Of course, these arguments “against” aren’t really defending Facebook, only pointing out that we are culpable in handing over so much of our own data that this meme alone is likely not going to do any more harm.
Of course, Facebook denied playing any role in the challenge.
The 10 year challenge is a user-generated meme that started on its own, without our involvement. It’s evidence of the fun people have on Facebook, and that’s it.
— Facebook (@Facebook) January 16, 2019
Facebook has a shady history of data privacy and is at the center of numerous scandals involving the misuse of users’ personal data. Facebook has allegedly gone as far as deliberately giving away its users’ data to other tech companies.
So even though Facebook denies any involvement in starting the trend, it’s clear that we should scrutinize them. There are really no two “sides” in this debate – only those who are more or less convinced that Facebook might use the meme data to continue doing what they’ve already told users they would do with their photos all along.
“The threat to privacy has become real to people in the last year. My hope is that people will become concerned about this vast face recognition database that Facebook has amassed and push back on Facebook, turn off face recognition in our Facebook profiles, and push for strict privacy laws at the state and federal levels.”
It is impossible not to be anxious about how Facebook might use our data at this point. T
In an age where – from airports to grocery stores – everyone is using facial recognition tech to aid in identifying people, the future of data privacy seems extraordinarily bleak.
It’s another case of technology that has the potential to be of great service to humanity, but at a cost we might not be comfortable with.