Apple’s new facial recognition feature may cause legal issues

“This week at WWDC, Apple announced a new facial recognition system — although if you weren’t watching closely, you might have missed it,” Russell Brandom reports for The Verge. “It came as part of an upgrade to Photos, which will soon catalog your pictures according to the faces in them.”

“‘The big news in Photos this year is Advanced Computer Vision,’ [Apple VP Craig] Federighi told the crowd. ‘”We’re applying advanced deep learning techniques to bring facial recognition to the iPhone,'” Brandom reports. “The new Photos system is a less cloud-heavy version of the system Google Photos first unveiled last May, which in turn drew heavily on Facebook’s long-standing system of auto-tagging photos and cataloging them by person. It’s a popular feature, one that Apple couldn’t resist building into the iPhone.”

“It’s also a controversial feature,” Brandom reports. “Both Google and Facebook are currently facing lawsuits over their facial recognition systems, which plaintiffs claim violate Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act… There’s a real privacy issue at stake, even beyond the possible lawsuits. Facial recognition can be put to some very creepy uses when faceprints are freely available, as we saw with a popular Russian app that summons up names and phone numbers for random passersby.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Simply follow the founder’s advice and let users decide, upfront, how much privacy they’ll cede in return for more functionality.

We take privacy extremely seriously. As an example we worry a lot about locations in phones. We worry that some 14 year old is gonna get stalked or something terrible is going to happen because of our phone…Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for. In plain English. And repeatedly. That’s what it means. I’m an optimist. I believe people are smart, I think some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. — Steve Jobs


  1. IIRC Apple did stress that this was all done locally, on-device, so they’re probably legally sound on that front.

    However, the *results* of this auto-processing might make it up to iCloud if photo syncing across devices includes results of these smart albums, if that’s the case then it will be an issue for countries with tighter privacy laws than the US.

    1. Exactly! Was just going to post that. A big criticism of Apple’s AI efforts has been that they began first, but have ended up third. That’s because of the privacy issues. But when they announced that most of this was now being done on the device, people don’t seem have noticed. I’m not seeing that reported anywhere, and so I’m posting that on various sites.

      It’s actually amazing that they are able to now do on our devices, what has required their server farms to do. But then, Apple doesn’t need user info because they aren’t advertising agencies as Facebook, Alphabet and even, to some extent, with Bing, and some other services, Microsoft are.

  2. Much more concerned about the FBI’s collection of millions of faces – the overwhelming majority being people never charged with a crime and never suspected.

    As software and surveillance cameras improve, the FBI and NSA and anybody else will be able to track us specifically everywhere we go.

    Creepy. They must really hate us.

  3. By operating within the device, Apple’s face recognition is only tagging this names that you have already supplied. It shouldn’t be able to add a name to a picture unless you have already identified that face.

    There is a big difference between that and a cloud based technique which could put names to people when you only have a photograph of them. I don’t see a privacy issue with Apple’s technique.

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