Facebook is considering incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members' profile photos into its growing facial recognition database, expanding the scope of the social network's controversial technology.

The possible move, which Facebook revealed in an update to its data use policy on Thursday, is intended to improve the performance of its "Tag Suggest" feature. The feature uses facial recognition technology to speed up the process of labeling or "tagging" friends and acquaintances who appear in photos posted on the network.

The technology currently automatically identifies faces in newly uploaded photos by comparing them only to previous snapshots in which users were tagged. Facebook users can choose to remove tags identifying them in photos posted by others on the site.

The changes would come at a time when Facebook and other Internet companies' privacy practices are under scrutiny, following the revelations of a U.S. government electronic surveillance program...
If you thought that license plate readers were fun, just wait until facial recognition gets better. Recall, facial recognition technology famously failed to catch the two Boston bombing suspects earlier this year, and it remains difficult to actually pull off quickly, accurately, and at a distance.

But according to new documents published by The New York Times on Wednesday, the tech is likely to improve in the near future. The documents show that the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a contract worth more than $5.155 million to create what’s been dubbed the “Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) at Stand-off Distance.” Included in the 67-pages worth of documents is a “statement of work”:

The DHS is responsible for the biometric identification of persons to determine if persons entering areas are currently on federal watch lists. To accomplish this task, DHS components require the ability to positively identify/screen individuals in a secure, efficient, accurate, and timely manner. This ability encompasses the collection, storage, transmission, and receipt of biometric and biographic data to support the component missions. The resulting capability will be portable and operable in a wide variety of areas and conditions (i.e. day/night, arid/humid climates, hot/cold temperature extremes.)

The output from these acquisition databases must be usable for searches of large-scale biometric databases (1 to many) and/or verification against a previously taken biometric sample (1 to 1).

The software will generate and identify a human subject 3-Dimensional facial biometric signature at stand-off distances up to 100 meters.

The primary contractor is Electronic Warfare Associates, a military contractor based in Kentucky. The contracted work took place between October 12, 2010 and November 16, 2012, although the document notes that the DHS “may give subsequent extension notices to the contractor in Writing for further performance in accordance with the contract.” The Times noted that a DHS official said that “research was continuing.”

However, if the government's current path down license plate reader deployment is any indication, once this technology becomes good enough, there will likely be federal grants to encourage local law enforcement to use such capabilities. Currently, license plate data is often pooled together into regional "fusion centers," which can then be more easily accessed by federal authorities. And if law enforcement agencies claim the authority to capture and store license plate data en masse for great periods of time, it doesn't take a great leap of logic to foresee this capability extended to facial recognition as well...
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Yesterday, Daimler's Car2Go, which offers on-demand, one-way rentals to its users, crashed.

Not physically, but in the code that powers the ridesharing service and controls the cars. Would-be drivers in Washington, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Portland, and other cities could not couldn't access the fleet of vehicles, leaving the service's customer-service crews scrambling on social media to explain what was going on. Starting at 2pm, the service's city-level Twitter accounts started warning people that they were experiencing, "a partial interruption and are quickly working to resolve the issue." For about 12 hours, the service appears to have been completely down down.

For those who remember Twitter's fail-whale, it was a familiar scene. But the difference between not being able to send tweets and not being able to drive home from work or pick up your kids is huge.

As with the hackable toilet we reported on last week, when we make pieces of our infrastructure "smart" with computers, we also give them the other characteristics of computers, like bugs, crashes, hackability, and downtime. These tradeoffs might be worth it -- after all, trains and cars break down for all sorts of reasons already -- but the ways that things don't work will be novel.

In this case, Car2Go's Vancouver branch responded to a tweet asking if they'd gotten hacked by saying, "We are still identifying root causes but are taking this very seriously."

Whether it was a bug or an attack, this is also part of the future of mobility, along with the gee-whizness of picking up a car off the street with your phone...

And what will happen when we have all those Google Driver-Less vehicles on the road soon?
An advertising firm in Britain has stopped using “spy bins” after an outcry from privacy watchdogs and the City of London.

The ad firm Renew was using a network of high-tech trash cans to track people walking through London’s financial district. It has been using technology embedded in the hulking receptacles to measure the Wi-Fi signals emitted by smartphones, and suggested that it would apply the concept of “cookies” — tracking files that follow Internet users across the Web — to the physical world and advertising.

“We will cookie the street,” Renew chief executive Kaveh Memari said in June.

The prospect has caused outraged and drew comparisons to the creepy “Good evening, John Anderton” ads from the Tom Cruise thriller Minority Report.

Britain’s data protection watchdog said it would investigate, while Nick Pickles of the privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch said questions need to be asked “about how such a blatant attack on people’s privacy was able to occur.”

The City of London Corporation has insisted that Renew pull the plug on the program.

“Anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public,” read a statement from the City of London Corporation, which is responsible for the city’s historic “square mile,” home to financial institutions, law firms and tourist landmarks...