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Facing the hard truths l Chuck's World

 

February 6, 2019



People write to me about fascinating things. Or mostly they’re fascinating. Some people are just angry a lot.

Sometimes I get emails that are specifically for the Beacon newspapers, which is to say they really should go to specific departments, not individual columnists. I’ve fielded more than a few comments about late or missing deliveries.

If my column doesn’t magically appear online at the designated time, there are at least three people who’ll write me about it, every time. As I said, sort of fascinating.

Recently, I’ve heard from a few people about a change that Beacon Publishing has made with the format of their newspapers, and specifically that they’re now using a new photo of me.

This isn’t really a recent thing.

Every few years over the past couple of decades, we slip a new picture into the mix, either inspired by the publisher or by my wife. I believe we’re on my fifth picture, which is only fair. At my age, I’m only going to change in one direction, but it just feels more honest to stay updated.

Except I got these emails, which, again, I always do.

Some people pay attention, and like to comment, which is appreciated. People always remark that I look different, too, and I always respond with something along the lines of not being able to defy time. Or defy lines, for that matter.

Although I know exactly what they’re talking about. It’s been happening most of my life.

I think I must have a neutral face that appears to change with just minor adjustments. I’ve gotten new glasses and had neighbors walk right by me; this is not an exaggeration.

Haircuts, new clothes, the addition or subtraction of facial hair – some people don’t notice, and some people get confused.

I have so many examples, although the best came around 10 years ago. Back in those simpler times, many of us exploring this new-fangled Facebook thing would just accept friend requests from anyone who seemed vaguely familiar.

The girl from elementary school. The guy who changes your oil. It didn’t seem important.

When they finally allowed us to post photos, I created a little album of family pictures, for the cousins and the far-off friends, no big deal. And this Facebook friend, someone I knew from some other corner of the internet, looked through them.

He made the comment, which I saved for posterity, that none of my pictures over the years looked like the same person. He was intrigued by this chameleon aspect, but, as I say, it’s old news to me. Like Batman or the Lone Ranger, I could probably just wear an eye mask and create a whole new persona. It’s kind of funny.

You know who doesn’t have a great sense of humor about this? The TSA.

My driver’s license photo hasn’t changed in a few years, because I’ve been renewing it online. It really doesn’t look like me, but then whose does? It’s the DMV; they’re busy, they stand you against a wall, they make you remove any items that might possibly identify you (glasses, jewelry, teeth), then they tell you your car has just been towed or your dog just died, and then they snap the picture.

You know how this goes. I’ll get a new picture when they tell me it’s time.

But I’ve been flying a lot recently, and I’ve noticed some lingering lately at the TSA checkpoint. They look at my license and then up at my face, and they repeat this quite often. I get it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I offer to take out my teeth. I’m at their mercy.

Again, I understand. That photo really doesn’t look like me. Eventually, I suppose, they assume no decent identify thief would try to pass himself off as the guy in the picture, and wave me on.

Here’s my point. I could post both photos, the driver’s license and that one up there at the top of this column, and Facebook would match them in less than a second. So would Google.

And they should. It’s the same face. I’ve had it for 60 years. Age progression varies but it has constants, and the wizards of biometrics have nailed facial recognition. Not perfectly, but close. It can match a toddler with an 80-year-old.

It’s only a matter of time, then. Many of us already unlock our phones and other devices with fingerprints or facial scans, and biometrics are already in use at some airports.

None of this particularly alarms me, although people get alarmed. Could a bad guy fool a facial scanner easier than, say, construct a fake driver’s license? My money’s on the machine.

But be as alarmed as you’d like. It won’t change anything. There was a game floating around a couple of weeks ago, posting either your first and most recent profile picture, or photos 10 years apart, or variations. Some people pretty self-righteously refused, arguing that they weren’t about to add to Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm.

Some people are, rightly so, concerned about privacy online, and they certainly don’t like the idea of handing over photos for some bot to pore over. I read a lot of these comments.

Without leaving my own, which would have pointed out that we’ve been handing this over for the past 15 years. Something about closing a barn door after the horse runs off goes here.

 

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