A new Google Group called “London Riots Facial Recognition” has appeared online, in the wake of the riots that rocked the U.K. capital over the weekend. The group’s goal is to use facial recognition technologies to identify the looters who appear in online photos.
The group appears to be thoughtfully considering its actions, in threads titled “Ethical Issues,” and “Keeping Things Legal,” for example. They’ve also stated that “it’s important we only use legal sources for images.”
However, there’s a major “creepy” factor to this undertaking, too. The idea that a group of people would team up online to use (misuse?) facial recognition technologies in this way, notably outside professional law enforcement channels, seems like a modern take on vigilante style justice, where the torches of the angry villagers have turned into APIs and algorithms.
In one newer thread, started just this morning, a commenter offers their assistance in building a tool using the Face.API, which could help identify people in photos posted on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. There is even talk of using the Facebook Graph API and the Twitter API in conjunction with the Face.com one to help better identify the criminals.
While clearly, we have nothing against criminals being brought to justice, there still may be some concerns involved with this type of online behavior. As argued here on Hacker News, this method could incriminate people who were not participating, but were bystanders, or simply trying to get home. Whether their actions here are legal, whether or not they involve public photos, the question is – do we want to crowdsource justice in this way?