Is "10 Year Challenge" helping Facebook mine data?

Sheri Evans
January 18, 2019

The mining of these posts is made a little more hard as some Facebook users have posted photos that aren't them in attempts to be comical.

Nevertheless, the issue points to wider implications of the data we often share without blinking an eye.

It gives Facebook "a flawless storm for machine learning", Amy Webb, a professor at NYU Stern School of Business, told reporters Wednesday, referring to the challenge, which generated 5.2 million Facebook engagements in three days, according to the social media monitoring tool Talkwalker.

While it may seem like a harmless meme, it's quite possible that to companies like Facebook this is a goldmine of data.

If you're using social media, you've probably noticed a number of people posting then-and-now pictures.

"Having access to a million facial images that are 10 years apart can indeed help in developing powerful algorithms", said Naimul Khan, head of Ryerson University's Multimedia Research Laboratory, which has done research with facial identification and emotion recognition.

One woman by the name of Kate O'Neill expressed how she would have taken part in the meme challenge 10 years ago, but today she wonders how all this data could be used to train facial recognition althorithms. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise.

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The social media giant's remarks came after tech magazine Wired published an article which suggested that then-and-now photos of regular people could be useful to any entity that's looking to develop facial recognition algorithms related to aging.

O'Neill's op-ed prompted Facebook to release a written statement in which it denied the possibility of secretly mining data from the photos.

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

The "10 Year Challenge" comes about a year after a similar effort from Google, one of Facebook's biggest competitors.

Whatever Facebook gets out of the "10 Year Challenge", Barr said it's significant that people questioned its motive in the first place.

She writes, 'The broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale'.

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