It’s Getting Harder to Stay Anonymous, Facial Search Study Reveals

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on May 22, 2013


In a recent 60 Minutes interview, TAP scholar Alessandro Acquisti discusses how technology is making it easier to find data about a person, without even needing the person’s name. With facial recognition search, personal information can be uncovered from just a photo, the Carnegie Mellon University professor discovered. In his study, Faces of Facebook: Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality, Acquisti took photos of random students on his college campus and then ran the photos through a free facial recognition program that sifted through Facebook profiles and other websites. He was able to quickly identify many of the students and uncover their personal data, even including social security numbers in some cases.

“Often we are not even aware of how much data we are actually revealing or it is being gathered about us,” Acquisti said during the interview. “The idea that you can start from a face and predict social security numbers from that face seemed quite alien and surprising. But now we know that it can be done.”

Check out a clip of Acquisti’s interview or watch the full CBS segment: “A Face in the Crowd: Say goodbye to anonymity” from the video below.

Alessandro Acquisti is an associate professor of information technology and public policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University. His work investigates the economic and social impact of IT, in particular the economics and behavioral economics of privacy and information security, as well as privacy in online social networks.

For more TAP scholar research related to this issue, check out the Privacy and Security page.