Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

One-Click Anonymity: YouTube Offers Automatic Face-Blurring

YouTube is chock full of videos where lighting and camerawork make it hard to figure out who’s in the clip. Now YouTube is giving video creators the ability to make it even harder to identify people.

Google’s site has rolled out a face-blurring tool that’s supposed to let video makers automatically obscure the faces of everyone in their clips. YouTube offers a number of reasons why you’d want to do this, like protecting the privacy of kids at a basketball game.

But it seems most intent on presenting it as a human rights tool: A blog post suggests that the feature could be used to “share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved.” An accompanying screengrab shows the tool in action for a “Demonstration for Egypt” event.

YouTube takes pains not to promise total protection. It describes the tool as a “first step towards providing visual anonymity,” and goes on to explain that the tool may not work at all in some cases, “depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality.”

It’s still interesting to see the company offer any kind of service that makes it easier to duck a camera’s gaze. Because much of the tech world, including Google itself, is spending a lot of time on visual recognition tools, like “face-finding” features.

Apple’s iPhoto has offered a face-recognition option for several years. And Facebook seems increasingly interested in exploiting that technology to “tag” its users; last month, the company spent some $60 million on facial-recognition start-up

Late last year, Google offered face recognition as an opt-in feature for its Google+ service (it also bought a start-up of its own). But the company has taken pains to say that it’s moving slowly with facial recognition because of privacy concerns.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work