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May 05, 2016

Facial Recognition Could Be a Problem for Porn Actresses

MOSCOW, Russia—Everybody's familiar with facial recognition, right? After all, you see it in movies and on TV shows about terrorists and the like all the time: A group of people are moving through some checkpoint or other, and meanwhile, a group of FBI/NSA/CIA types are looking at a computer monitor showing the movement that, off to the side of the screen, has a box showing each face being run through facial recognition software so they can find the terrorist before it's too late! Well, guess what? Some folks in Russia have developed a consumer version of this software, called FindFace (yes, the site is in Russian but a button at the bottom brings up English), and apparently the way it's supposed to work is, you put in a photo of someone, and FindFace searches Vkontakte.com (VK.com), Russia's largest social network site, to see if that face can be "recognized" in any of the photos on VK. FindFace was released in February, and since then, there have been plenty of stories of people (mostly men) using the app to find people they've lost touch with over the years—or whom they might want to stalk after having randomly taken the woman's photo as she was walking down the street—that last actually done as an experiment by one Egor Tsvetkov to "highlight[] how invasive the technology can be." There's just one problem (so far): According to Ars Technica's Kevin Rothrock, "Tsvetkov seems to have inspired a particularly nasty effort to identify and harass Russian women who appear in pornography. On April 9, three days after the media reported on Tsvetkov’s art project, users of the Russian imageboard 'Dvach' (2chan) launched a campaign to deanonymize actresses who appear in pornography. After identifying these women with FindFace, Dvach users shared archived copies of their Vkontakte pages and spammed the women's families and friends with messages informing them about the discovery. The effort also targeted women registered on the website 'Intimcity,' which markets prostitution services." But the problem is even worse than Rothrock describes, because with the Russian government continuing its long-standing crackdown on porn in the country, as detailed by Moscow journalist Natalia Antonova, most of the would-be Russian porn actresses have to ply their trade outside the country—like here in the U.S.—and FindFace has already created problems for some of them by "outing" them to family and friends who had no idea they were practicing the sexual professions. To its credit, Vkontakte discovered the Dvach users' plot and quickly banned the group's VK.com section, replacing it with a slogan which reads, "This community has been blocked for organizing an attack on Vkontakte pages or communities." But the problem still exists, and since new internet technology has rarely been held secret for very long, it's only a matter of time before a program like FindFace finds its way to the U.S., thus threatening any number of adult actresses whose parents, relatives and friends don't know what they do for a living (though, hopefully, that number sbould decrease as the stigma surrounding adult entertainment lessens). Still, as Rothrock reports, "Speaking to the website TJournal, FindFace founder Maxim Perlin said there's no way he can prevent people from using his service to harass women in this way, though he points out that distributing pornography illegally in Russia is a felony. 'We are making every effort to protect all Vkontakte users from potential malicious acts,' Perlin says. 'And we're prepared, if necessary, to provide any information needed to find the users responsible for this harassment.'" Maybe Perlin is, but whoever begins a similar FindFace program in the U.S. may not be as helpful—or moral.

 
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