Research Says Profile Pictures Betray Privacy, Also Sky is Blue.

On the surface, this seems completely obvious. The picture you use as your profile picture on social media sites is often publicly displayed. It has a reason for being public though, it’s the landmark for your page. New people trying to befriend you will appreciate knowing you are who you are. It’s the one picture on our page that we all let slip through the cracks, but for good reason. So what’s the big deal? Well, as it turns out, it’s not a big deal…yet. But it will be soon. And it’s all because of the phone in your pocket.

Picture this, you’re wandering down the street in your nearest city, minding your business. Suddenly, a passer-by snaps a quick picture of your beautiful mug without you noticing. That person can now enter your face into a search and come back with all kinds of results. Results that extend further out then just your boring old Facebook. Results that are frankly, pretty scary.

Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of IT and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, has put together a team to demonstrate just how easy this process is, and how much easier it’s getting every single day. He took his findings to Black Hat conference to warn others of the dangerous consequences of having a public profile image.

Acquisti showed the audience an experiment in which he asked his students to pose for a few webcam images. Using the images he was able find 31% of his students’ Facebook profiles in about 3 seconds. From there, he used one of his previous experiments to try and identify the students’ social security numbers. The experiment uses public clues to find the numbers with fairly reasonable accuracy. The results showed that he was able to find the first 5 digits of the individual’s social security number with 16% accuracy on the first attempt, and 27% accuracy after 4 attempts. The research was based on an algorithm he developed himself.

“These technologies challenge our expectation of anonymity in the digital or the physical world,” Acquisti said.

Tech is a two way street, with the good, comes the bad. Thankfully, Acquisti’s research isn’t completely reliable yet, but it’s getting there. Acquisti warns us that we need to take the appropriate steps now, to ensure that we aren’t so accessible in the future.

Source: ComputerWorld

4 thoughts on “Research Says Profile Pictures Betray Privacy, Also Sky is Blue.”

  1. whoa. This makes me think of those youtube clips that are reversed to bypass the copyright filter. Do you think that there’s some tool out there that can alter the photo’s data enough to trick an image search, but still look recognizable to humans? 

  2. Kristopher Tope

    If my social security number is able to be located by his search algorithm, then there is a security protocol breakdown much more important my damn Facebook profile picture.  How about instead of senselessly attacking social media practices, he reveals his source for SSNs to the appropriate parties so the security gap can be closed?

    1. It actually pretty simple. It’s largely based on when/where you were born and other random info like that. The only way it would truly be safe is if it was completely random.

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