Excellent article from Jon Evans at TechCrunch about a month ago, relevant to the Nym Wars.
Cheap and/or ubiquitous cameras and facial recognition make surveillance ever more omnipresent; the dangers and uncertainties of other new technologies, like hobbyist UAVs, lead to calls for even greater scrutiny; and eventually online anonymity/pseudonymity will be the only kind there is. That isn’t entirely a bad thing. It’s because of crowdsourced surveillance that New York police lieutenant Anthony Bologna faces two investigations after apparently gratuitously pepper-spraying protestors. But it means the ability to remain pseudonymous online will only become more and more important in the years to come.
Do the services that connect people online seem to realize this? Sadly, the answer mostly ranges between “No” and “Hell, no.” Twitter is the only major social network that doesn’t have a real-names policy, and the only one with a history of going to bat for its users’ privacy. But while the online journalists in Mexico who dare to report on its brutal drug wars are beheaded after their real identities are connected to their online bylines, while Syrians are detained and interrogated because of their Facebook accounts, Vic Gundotra has idiotically compared Google Plus’s real-name policy to “wearing a shirt to a restaurant,” and both Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi have called for real identities to be attached to all online activity.
When a group of digilantes formed a Google Group last week dedicated to applying facial recognition technology to photos from the London riots to identify culprits, it caused quite a stir in the media. But the group’s organizer contacted Kashmir Hill at Forbes over the weekend to say that they have abandoned the project.
They created an experimental app using tools from Face.com and tested it with 30 of their friends. Their plan had been to release a Facebook app to the public so that people in the UK could volunteer to scan riot photos to see if any of the ne’er-do-wells were friends of theirs. (Not good friends, I’d have to assume.) They also gave me access to the app to give it a try. The results were too disappointing for the digilantes to actually release it. It wasn’t identifying people it should (friends of the guinea pigs) with high degrees of confidence, and it was saying with relatively high degrees of confidence that rioters were people who they were not.
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard says it is putting facial recognition technology into use, according to the AP, using a face-recognizing tool that was being developed in preparation for hosting the Olympics in 2012.
And Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic
[P]erhaps the British surveillance state won’t make much of a difference in preventing future riots or prosecuting people in the aftermath of this one. If law enforcement there isn’t any better at punishing rioters than their analogues in other countries, that’s a strong argument for rethinking their whole system: if surveillance doesn’t prevent wanton street violence and property destruction, the notion that its benefits outweigh its costs (loss of privacy and potential abuse by authorities) is all the more dubious.