Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture aging meme going around on Facebook and Instagram— Kate O'Neill (@kateo) January 12, 2019
Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition
My flippant tweet began to pick up traction. My intent wasn't to claim that the meme is inherently dangerous. But I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It's worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations.
Of those who were critical of my thesis, many argued that the pictures were already available anyway. The most common rebuttal was: "That data is already available. Facebook's already got all the profile pictures."
Of course they do. In various versions of the meme, people were instructed to post their first profile picture alongside their current profile picture, or a picture from 10 years ago alongside their current profile picture. So, yes: These profile pictures exist, they've got upload time stamps, many people have a lot of them, and for the most part they're publicly accessible.
But let's play out this idea...
Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you'd want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people's pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.