Polar Rose Photo Privacy And Surveillance Concerns

Polar Rose, a unique search engine for faces, is no stranger to Technovelgy readers (see the Polar Rose Face-Recognition Search Engine article from several months ago). After the mainstream media finally discovered this interesting web application, a number of privacy concerns surfaced (not to mention the various concerns and suggestions mentioned in the Polar Rose reader comments).


(2D to 3D translation aids face recognition)

Many readers expressed concern that photos that were posted to the public Internet have been seen by their owners as "private" due to the principle of "security by obscurity." In other words, there are about 100 million MySpace pages; what are the odds that someone will see my picture? With Polar Rose, any photo on the Internet will be searchable.

Polar Rose has this to say:

By sorting the text web, these search engines exposed the wonderful resource of public documents that web had already become. The side-effect was that information which was not meant for public consumption, but which was kept private by obscurity, was suddenly exposed and searchable.

Polar Rose urges users to use the usual methods to make sure that private photos are kept private in the usual ways, learned from lessons by the search engines:

  • Polar Rose will not index private photos; photos behind a firewall, login, or on a user’s desktop computer.
  • Polar Rose honors robots.txt and subsequent requests by a site owner to remove photos from our database.
  • Polar Rose will never engage Polar Rose in the application of the technology in security or surveillance. (This provision is explicitly stated in the contracts they have with partners.)
This final point addresses serious concerns by privacy advocates that Polar Rose will allow governments or private firms the ability to search the Internet for visual information about people. Consider what would happen if, for example, a private insurance agency decided to search for an applicant, and found pictures in which the applicant had been photographed at a club that could be connected to risky lifestyles. It's still not clear that a company could not use Polar Rose in that way.

Take a look at the blog entry On Privacy and Polar Rose on the Polar Rose website.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/20/2006)

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