If you were on social media at all last week, your feeds were likely filled with photos of your friends looking a little, well, older. The cause was not sudden onset aging or the toll of too much stress—it was just the most recent surge in popularity of FaceApp, the face-editing app that uses neural network technology to alter images as demonstrated by the photos of actor Paul Rudd, above.
The last time FaceApp went viral, all the talk focused on the app’s racist caricaturing. This time around, the debate was over the company itself. As it turns out, FaceApp is Russian, leading to speculation that the app is a data-mining tool for the Russian government.
For one thing, she says, it requires access to your phone’s entire camera roll rather than a single photo. FaceApp also collects personally identifiable information including “information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data,” which it provides to vaguely-defined third-parties, including advertisers.
Personally, you’d have to offer me something better to sign away my rights voluntarily than a chance to see what I might look like old—I already know what I look like old—but that didn’t seem to deter millions of others, including most of my Twitter follows. Some people are just gluttons for punishment, I guess.
In other face-related news, Slate asks if you should you worry about your pet’s privacy too (Say Hello to Dog Facial Recognition Technology):
“As facial recognition has taken off, so have privacy concerns. There is no shortage of recent scandals: China’s government is actively monitoring citizens through a network of cameras and algorithms matching images to people, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement used facial recognition to analyze driver’s license databases without citizens’ knowledge. As a result, legal and privacy scholars, tech columnists, and even government officials have cautioned against the technology. So far, most of the discussion of facial recognition has centered on human faces, but it’s on the rise among other animals as well—and with that comes a different set of privacy concerns.”
A few more privacy stories:
- Google admits that employees and contractors can access recordings made by its home Assistant device after some were leaked.
- And Amazon confirms it keeps your Alexa recordings basically forever.
- This week the Federal Trade Commission ordered Facebook to create new layers of oversight for its collection and handling of users’ data and formally imposed a record $5 billion fine for deceiving users about the company’s ability to control the privacy of their personal data. Read the story at the NY Times.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review has this story about a new project in Austin, TX, that aims to help people experiencing homelessness by using blockchain technology to secure their personal documents.
“Cities across the United States are searching for ways to help people facing housing insecurity. Austin—where more than 2,000 people experience homelessness on a given day—has taken initial steps toward piloting a program to create digital identities that retain an individual’s personal identification materials through blockchain, the incorruptible digital ledger that can record just about anything.”
SSIR also had this interesting podcast (Transforming Programs Through Predictive Analytics) about how public higher education institutions are successfully using predictive tools to increase graduation rates and close the achievement and opportunity gaps between low-income and underrepresented minority students and their peers.
Open Culture shares an unlikely data visualization from 1869 showing Napoleon’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia—which has been called “The Best Statistical Graphic Ever Drawn.” While it’s tempting to associate data visualizations with PowerPoint and online graphics, the piece argues, the form reaches further back in history.
”In 1900, for example, W.E.B. Du Bois made impressive use of several full-color data visualizations for the First Pan-African Conference in London, with no access whatsoever to desktop publishing software or a laser printer. Almost 50 years before Du Bois turned statistics into swirls of color and shape, Florence Nightingale used her little-known graphic design skills to illustrate the causes of disease in the Crimean War and John Snow (not Jon Snow) illustrated his revolutionary Broad Street Pump cholera theory with a famous infographic street map. Around this same time, another data visualization pioneer, Charles Joseph Minard, produced some of the most highly-regarded infographics ever made, including the 1869 illustration above of Napoleon’s march to, and retreat from, Moscow in the War of 1812.”
Is your nonprofit using data visualization? And if not, what’s your excuse?
Gizmodo looks at the buzz around Superhuman, Silicon Valley’s hottest email app, and the ethical questions use of the app demands.
“The product — a $30 per month email app for power users hoping for greater productivity— is a good alternative to many popular and stale email apps, nearly everyone who has used it says so. Even better is the company’s publicity strategy: The service invite only and posting on social media is the quickest way to get in the door…. If you use Superhuman, you’ll be able to see when someone opened your email, how many times they did it, what device they were using and what location they’re in.”
But it turns out Superhuman’s powerful features are powered by a run-of-the-mill privacy-violating tracking pixel. Haven’t we heard this story before?
In Fast Company, Jared Newman weighs in on the app and shares his own evolving views on email tracking and privacy: “Knowing when people have opened your emails feel like a superpower—a villainous one.”
In the NY Times, Melanie Pinola writes about How and When to Limit Kids’ Tech Use:
“No one cares more about your child’s well-being and success more than you do. In today’s digitally-fueled times, that means guiding him or her not just in the real world but in the always-on virtual one as well. Teach your children to use technology in a healthy way and pick up the skills and habits that will make them successful digital citizens. From two-year-olds who seem to understand the iPad better than you to teenagers who need some (but not too much) freedom, we’ll walk you through how to make technology work for your family at each stage of the journey.”
Cultivating tech use among digital natives is valuable, but so is cultivating screen-free endeavors.
As a virtual team at Idealware/Tech Impact, we have a lot of video calls, online chats, and phone calls—so many, in fact, that it can be difficult to find time for actual heads-down work.
Fortunately, it’s not a problem unique to us. And here’s one approach to a solution that we find appealing: Why You Need an Untouchable Day Every Week.
And finally, in this NPR story from WHYY in Philadelphia, Michaela Winberg looks at an unorthodox use of tech: To keep teens away after closing hours, the city has installed sonic noisemakers in parks that people of a certain age can no longer hear.
The military has adopted similar sonic weapons to combat pirates at sea, but the tech is banned in many places. When I was a kid, they used to play Barry Manilow’s music loudly outside the 7-11 for the same reason: to keep loitering teenagers away.
The joke is on them—I love Barry Manilow’s music.
That’s it for this month. A big thank you to everyone who sent links. As always, if you have any you think would be a good fit, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you in August…