Why you should not do the Ten Year Challenge #10YearChallenge
Popularity of Social Media Challenges
As COVID19 has put the breaks on our social lives, many have turned to social media as an outlet. The challenges with social media are at an all-time high. Before you consider participating or even allowing your children to participate in what can appear to be harmless fun, there may be a few things to consider.
When you or any household member participate in these challenges, you are actually ‘feeding the beast’ of AI. Artificial intelligence uses machine learning techniques to gather its collective databases of information. As you post your good time fun, your personal data, that is, your face is being scanned by many different company’s facial recognition software programs. These programs are labeling you, dissecting your information, and creating information in your personal account. An account you may have not even authorized its existence. It can be fun to participate in games online or share photos on Facebook with family and friends, but keeping track of your privacy settings and who you share this data with is equally important. After all, you only get one face.
Consider the many posts of the 10-year-challenge or the couples-challenge. In the 10-year-challenge, which is popular on Facebook, users post dual pictures of themselves ten years apart. The couple’s challenge sounds sweet as it suggests posting photos of you and your significant other doing various activities. It all sounds like a great deal of fun and exciting to share with family and friends. The problem is the bad actors in our society who abuse our information without our consent. These bad actors can be anyone, from your neighbor to small businesses, large enterprises, government, and even the social media application you are posting on. When you were growing up, your parents always told you to beware of strangers. Online you have no idea who is accessing your information. Everyone could be a stranger.
Why We Participate
If our data, including our faces, are being abused on social media – why do we continue to participate despite the continued warnings? According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, is because when we share with others via social media, it can create positive feedback and raise our self-esteem. The quest for likes can be nearly addictive, releasing endorphins in our brains and sends us on a quest to participate and try to achieve more and more. The positive attention that some people receive through their social media participation drives them to post again and again. It is in the same manner that a drug addict can overlook the harmful impact and effects of the drug continuing its use; people are social animals. We overlook the warning label and continue to post freely and ignore any negative repercussions.
Who Abuses the Data
It all seems so harmless, so who abuses this data? Everyone and anyone. Governments and major corporations abuse our personal data every chance they are given. Every day, citizens get excited about technology, science, and sharing information; we get enthusiastic about learning new ideas and discovering our world. For example, DNA testing has become commonplace, and it is advertised as a way to get in touch with your heritage. How thrilled we are to learn the exact details of our roots, discover that we have Native American ancestry, or have some lineage in our bloodline from a village in Africa. What did that test cost you? Was it just the $99 fee you sent along with your saliva sample? No, it was much more.
Would it surprise you that the federal government owns stock in most of these DNA testing companies and is creating a database of results? How does it make you feel that they have been doing this so long that for the average white American, with an anonymous DNA sample, can pinpoint you down to your family, mother, father, cousins, and possibly your home address? How comfortable does this make you feel? Is this abuse of personal data?
Now that we are putting more info out online due to all the time we are currently spending on the internet due to COVID, what about the new COVID19 tracing apps? CARE19 is an example of a tracing app that is endorsed by several states in the U.S. for use by COVID patients and their families. They were assured that their personal data would be protected. When an outside company searched through the program code, they found several code lines buried deep in the program that stored the personal data and sent it out to be sold to several major U.S. corporations. There is nothing that keeps these companies from selling this data further on to other companies. They created files based on an individual’s data without their consent. It’s not only illegal, but the government endorsed it. How safe does it make you feel?
Google and Apple worked together and produced a contact tracing app. All sounds so helpful to the desperate citizens looking to stay safe from a devastating pandemic. Not so fast – while the app user did sign up and agreed to the privacy settings, what about the people who did not download the app? The software uses the phone’s Bluetooth and connects to the Bluetooth of other phones from people, including random strangers, who walk within approximately 12 feet of the user. Did they sign up to release their data? Do you feel violated?
Any information that you post will be mined and used by someone or some company. Going into any game, challenge, or online activity with this awareness will help you determine whether the adrenaline rush is worth the risk to your private data. If you are doing the ten-year challenge, for example, if you are helping companies like Facebook and Google improve their facial recognition software, should they not at minimum pay you for the data they are using? After all, they are making profits off of you.
How AI Perceives Images
How is it that posting simple images like those in the 10-year challenge or the couple’s challenge are easy targets for AI and facial recognition companies to use your data? First, you posted it publicly. Check your privacy settings. Second, it is how AI learns. They use the many images from the hundreds of thousands of participants to train their AI software to become better at facial recognition.
The way artificial intelligence works is much like how our brains work. In fact, the design is very similar. Our brains run on neural networks that carry information from one area to another, and through repeated data input, we eventually retain the information and learn. Once we have mastered the ability to learn, we manage to put pieces of data together and create ideas or even discover solutions to problems. AI’s basic design is an artificial neural network system. When it is created, it starts off with no information but must be fed data. For example, a facial recognition program would be given millions of faces to learn. Images of people from infants to the elderly. Through a process called machine learning, which is much like the process of human learning, after many pieces of data are downloaded, the software can then recognize – ‘this is a human face.’
Perceptron is a term that was coined by Frank Rosenblatt in 1957 at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory. It is a term that describes this form of visual learning that is done with artificial intelligence. A type of deep learning that is similar to how our own brain connects to multiple visual neural networks such as v1, v2, v3… a neural network is created when a collection of neurons or individual nodes are interconnected through synaptic links. There are three layers in every artificial neural network – input, output, and a hidden layer. Inputs are given a value, then moved to the hidden layer, which has its own set of neural pathways, then to the output.
When posting the 10-year challenge, it is specifically training facial recognition to learn how to recognize individuals better. It also is teaching the software how to create age-progression photographs. There are positive uses to having facial recognition software that can create accurate age progression photos. This has led to many missing children being found and brought home. It isn’t the good things that we worry about. It is the idea that this data will one day be misused, and your own personal data will be collected without your consent. That companies are profiting off your image, and you are not even being compensated for your participation.
Facial Recognition and Machine Learning
Facebook states they did not start the challenge. A user started it as a simple game among friends. However, more than 5.2 million people have participated so far. Kate O’Neill, a writer for Wired, wrote an explorative argument on gathering data for facial recognition systems. She said, “Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, ten years.”
This creates a nightmare scenario where innocent people are duped into providing free data for a machine learning storm. Even though Facebook stated it did not start the challenge, how could its facial recognition software not benefit from such a challenge? There are more than 2.2 billion users on Facebook, uploading photos every day. Facebook has been working on all types of improvements to its facial recognition software, tagging photographs, and even if you personally turn off tagging, it doesn’t mean that you are not tagged elsewhere on Facebook.
This is a serious matter. According to Alvaro Bedoya, facial recognition expert and executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, it’s not like you can change your face. “You can delete cookies. You can change browsers. And you can leave your smartphone at home. But you can’t delete your face, and you can’t leave it at home.”
While it is fun to participate, be sure that what you post online is worth the risk to your personal data. Always check your privacy settings and limit your participation in those things that are worth your time and effort. Protect your children as well, and limit what they can post. Also, before posting any image, be sure to remove any metadata in your photo background. You are giving away your face, no need to also give away your home address.