CBS 60 Minutes Broadcast on Facial Recognition

Written by Larry Press

Facial recognition is the next big thing in privacy. Soon advertisers will market to us through our faces while the government profiles anyone with a photo. — CBS 60 Minutes recently broadcast a news segment about the advancements and applications of face-recognition technology. Both the video and a transcript are online, with a tag line that reads “say goodbye to anonymity.” Should we be alarmed by this seemingly-uncontrollable loss of privacy?

In 1999 Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, was quoted saying, “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.” Ten years later Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Recent surveillance breaches with the U.S. government, corporate entities and foreign countries are proving this sentiment more-true every day. The technology, as CBS informs us, is getting even more-personal.

Commercial Implications

Think of all the people you have identified and who have identified you in Facebook or Google+ photographs — an endless number of tags, links and square boxes around yours and their faces. These are a ready-made database against which a facial recognition algorithm will run, decipher, and locate theoretically anyone.

Once the algorithm recognizes a face the software simply matches the known facts of said face to all traceable data. It sorts through demographic data, likes and dislikes, search history, friends and location-based tags.

60 Minutes emphasized the commercial applications of this technology.

It claimed that we would receive a discount coupon for our favorite beverage seconds after we walk into a restaurant. We would see personalized ads while walking through the mall.

In short, our faces would betray our personal lives and make each one of us a targetable consumer.

FBI Database

CBS also spent time discussing the database of criminal photographs the FBI has amassed. They said that the FBI, which could not identify the Boston Marathon bombers despite clear pictures of their faces, expects to be able to search by face, fingerprint and DNA next year.

video segment that did not air with the original broadcast, titled “Facebook and the FBI,” delves into the specific uses of facial recognition in the government.

The FBI representative says all the right things, rejecting the idea that social sites could be used in their investigations, but government credibility today is not all that high.

As Bruce Schneier points out in this Atlantic Monthly article, the government relies on industry to do much of its surveillance. It seems that the data feed coming from such large, socially-inclined corporations could be misused.

The 60 Minutes segment focused on algorithmic face recognition, a technology that will be effective and useful in a short amount of time. That tech can be combined with crowd-sourced face recognition as shown in these examples. It can make each one of us targetable and visible, wherever we are.

All of this begs the question: When has this tech gone too far? Are we collectively worried for our privacy? How long until Google or Facebook get a court order demanding to know where you were yesterday afternoon? The technology is nearly there.

For, I’m Larry Press.

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here at He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s at +Larry Press — or email him at


  • Saw this comment from Gina’s Google+ feed

    Bob Amos

    8/29/2013 9:21 PM
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