Can criminals use Facebook to guess your SSN?

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

Facebook received some pretty heavy negative backlash after the social networking site rolled out its facial recognition photo tagging system worldwide in June.

Now a new report suggests it may be possible to gather personal information using facial recognition software and profiles from social media sites like Facebook. Is it time to turn the feature off?

Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon's CyLab claims that by using readily available facial recognition software (technology recently acquired by Google), cloud computing, and public information from social sites, it is indeed possible to identify people and create public profiles.

To prove his point, Acquisti and his team took snapshots of volunteers and used facial recognition to match them with their public Facebook profiles. In less than three seconds, the system found 10 possible matches, with the correct Facebook profile page among the top results more than 30% of the time.

Acquisti says the study "suggests that the identity of about one-third of subjects walking by the campus building may be inferred in a few seconds combining social-network data, cloud computing and an inexpensive webcam."

What's even more scary is the statistic that around 27% of the time he was able to use information from Facebook to identify the first five digits of a person's social security number within four attempts.

Acquisti highlighted this problem back in 2009 when he released a similar study citing that criminals can easily predict social security numbers based on publically available data.

Although the focus wasn't on Facebook and facial recognition in 2009, the concern has certainly shifted towards these new technologies.

Acquisti explained, "A person’s face is the veritable link between his or her offline and online identities. When we share tagged photos of ourselves online, it becomes possible for others to link our face to our names in situations where we would normally expect anonymity."

As technology continues to bridge the gap between the digital and real world, Acquisiti warns the seamless merging of online and offline data made possible by face recognition and social media "raises the issue" of what privacy will mean in an augmented reality world.

"Ultimately, all of this access is going to force us to reconsider our notions of privacy. It may also affect how we interact with each other.

"Through natural evolution, human beings have evolved mechanisms to assign and manage trust in face-to-face interactions. Will we rely on our instincts or on our devices, when mobile phones can predict personal and sensitive information about a person?"

(Via WSJ)