Mask Selfies on Instagram Are Being Used to Develop New Facial Recognition Tools

May 20, 2020

If you’ve posted a selfie wearing a face mask it could be being used without your consent.

According to CNET, researchers have been collecting thousands of face mask selfies directly from Instagram in order to develop the next generation of facial recognition tools.

As most people have realized in the last few months, your smartphone can’t recognize you when wearing a face covering. While individuals may find this inconvenient, it threatens to upend a multimillion-dollar industry dependent on the technology.

In response, companies have been harvesting images of people in face masks to help train their algorithms.

Most of these images were collected without users consent by scraping public profiles on Instagram.

"We have these public images from Instagram, so these are not private images,” said Wafaa Arbash, the CEO of a facial recognition startup called Workaround. “We were just searching and getting the right data."

Arbash said they gathered the images by simply searching hashtags related to masks. Arbash also noted that if anyone in their database is uncomfortable with their images being included they should make their profile private. The problem is those individuals have not been made aware that their images were used.

"We're not making any money off of this, it's not commercial," Arbash added. "The goal and the intention was to help any data science or machine learning engineers who are working to fix this issue and help with public safety."

Facebook, which owns Instagram, released a statement saying they are looking into the matter.

“We do not allow third parties to collect or use photos posted by our users in this way, without their consent. We are continuing to investigate this,” the tech giant said.

Privacy advocates have previously argued that facial recognition technology threaten people's civil liberties as "there are almost no laws preventing abuse of the surveillance tools," reported the outlet.

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