Is Facebook's 10 Year Challenge, A Strategy to Acquire Your Data?
Is Facebook's 10 Year Challenge, A Strategy to Acquire Your Data?

Bengaluru – Did you take the 10 year challenge? It’s setting up the social networks on fire from Twitter to Instagram, but more on Facebook. But that’s not surprising at all, considering most of us still have huge numbers of photos, handily sorted into profile photos uploaded over time, and Facebook has been around as ‘the’ social network for the longest period. 

To participate in the challenge you just need to share two photos of yourself, one latest and the other from ten years ago. Initially, it seems pretty harmless, with people putting up photos showing how they have grown as fine as wine or how hard age has hit them.

A lot of celebrities have become active which has probably helped things go viral. Some shared pranks, like uploading the same picture two times, or using other celebrities picture for one half of the challenge, and remaining of us have also been doing related things.

To be precise it’s been a viral Internet thing that’s been funny for many of us. But it might be not that simple. After all, it’s best to remember the oft-repeated maxim of life on the Internet. “When you’re using something for free, you are the product.”

If it is not for free then how are you paying for this 10 year challenge?

Training Data for Algorithms?

Kate O’Neill, founder of KO Insights and the author of Tech Humanist and Pixels and Place, jokingly tweeted that this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition. Her tweet went viral and prompted some more detailed thinking, outlined in a piece for Wired. 

“I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It’s worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations,” O’Neill wrote.

A common counterargument to her tweet was that Facebook already has this data, as we have been uploading photos here from a long time, and so a viral challenge like this could hardly help it to train its algorithms. 
O’Neill, however, posited that timestamps aren’t always a useful way to tell when a photo was taken, and even the metadata attached to the pictures themselves can give inaccurate information. Therefore, she noted, having a person manually sort this out would be more helpful.

This all might make sense but there is no proof that this is what is happening. For its part, Facebook has denied any involvement in the 10 year challenge.

“This is a user-generated meme that went viral on its own,” a Facebook spokesperson responded. “Facebook did not start this trend, and the meme uses photos that already exist on Facebook. Facebook gains nothing from this meme other than reminding us of the questionable fashion trends of 2009. As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time.”

Progression Algorithms Already Exist

This viral challenge is not planned by the company to gather user data is because real age progression software already exists. There’s an article in ABC News, ironically from 10 years ago, which includes several examples of how images generated by specially created age progression software, were used to find missing children. 

It doesn’t mean that Facebook doesn’t want to train its own algorithms and wouldn’t be above making use of data in this manner. It has given confusing statements so many times now that it’s hard to take anything it says seriously, but it’s already capable to do without having to create a viral challenge to gather more information.

However, by bringing up the question, O’Neill makes one very important point that we all need to think more carefully about how and why we share the personal information that we choose to share on the Internet. Memes and games are a great way of mining personal information the data collected by Cambridge Analytical to do political analysis came by way of a personality quiz.

That’s not to say that there’s something calculated about the spread of the 10 year challenge. But people for sure need to start thinking seriously on how they’re sharing their information, and why.


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