A freshman at Harvard created a social networking app called “The FaceTag.” This sparked a debate on the ethics of facial recognition.

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Harvard Yuen Ler Chow’s freshman year on campus. Yuen ler chow

  • The FaceTag allows users to register, scan another user’s face, and exchange contact information.

  • The app is only available to Harvard students, echoing Zuckerberg’s initial creation, TheFacebook.

  • The TikTok videos Chow made on The FaceTag collectively have nearly a million views.

Harvard freshman Yuen Ler Chow has created an app in his dorm that allows students to register, scan another user’s face, and exchange contact information such as phone numbers. phone and Instagram IDs. At the moment, it is only available at Harvard. Chow calls it “The FaceTag”.

In a comment under a TikTok video he made about the app, Chow said he only named it The FaceTag because FaceTag.com was caught. But he told Insider over the phone that he knew what he was doing (alluding to former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg who initially called his creation TheFacebook).

“Obviously, this app is not related to Facebook at all,” he said. “But the fact that I’m a Harvard student creating a bit like a social media app, the name FaceTag was fun and the fact that it was The FaceTag was also pretty funny.

The FaceTag has just over 100 registrations, according to Chow, and it’s only available through a web browser on TheFaceTag.com. But a series of TikToks he’s done about it collectively has nearly a million views. Most of the comments have the same tone: the app is unethical and he shouldn’t have made it.

“What’s going on with the kids at Harvard and not understanding ethics?” A TikToker wrote.

“What a wonderful idea from a young Harvard student, it surely won’t be a threat to democracy in a decade,” said another. (“I can’t tell if you’re kidding,” Chow replied.)

“Dude, don’t you think if there was an ethical way to do it, there would be several iterations already?” Popular TikToker Serena Shahidi, also known as @ glamdemon2004, commented.

There are a lot of apps for exchanging contact information, but they’re not very popular, and unlike The FaceTag, they don’t use facial recognition. Chow said those commenters did not understand the app, which he created using an open source facial recognition API.

When a person first creates a FaceTag profile, the app scans their face and extracts points and measurements. This information is recorded, Chow said, but not the image itself. If you scan the face of someone who hasn’t signed up for The FaceTag, it won’t work. But if they are also registered, the app will match.

People can enter their phone number, Instagram and Snapchat account details into The FaceTag. And it’s all or nothing: you can’t decide to share different information with different people. If someone has a private profile, they must click “accept” before others can get their contact details. On a non-private profile, contact information is shared right after the app makes a face match.

The debate over The FaceTag reflects growing concerns about facial recognition. Many TikTok comments pose “what ifs” which are common fears for women, in particular. What if someone scans your face and obtains your information without your consent? (This could be avoided by not signing up or making your profile private.) What if you are forced to share your information on The FaceTag? (Like in real life, this can’t be avoided entirely, but you can remove someone as a FaceTag “friend” if you want.)

The biggest risk, arguably, is if someone has hacked the FaceTag and harvested users’ friends, contact information, and facial measurements.

“One reason a lot of people have so many misconceptions about the app is that I didn’t really explain it in the video,” Chow wrote in an email. “It was on purpose, because I knew that a shorter, more concise video would go viral rather than, say, a full minute video explaining my app. It worked – i had a million views in total, but … now i know if the hate was worth it lol.

The FaceTag may not have generated controversy if it generated QR codes rather than using a face scanner. But Chow told Insider he wanted to use facial recognition because it’s “so much cooler” than QR codes, and he wanted to play around with open source machine learning tools.

The debate around The FaceTag is also taking place on TikTok, one of the more intrusive apps. It uses phone activity trackers (cookies), buys data from third parties, and gathers an immense amount of behavioral information, including “typing patterns” and logs of all objects, landscapes and “facial features. and body ”that appear in the videos, in accordance with its privacy policy.

Chow is aware of this irony. “It’s a little weird to see so many people scared that I’m collecting this data, but almost every other social media app collects a lot more,” he said. “It’s just that I tell them directly that I collect it and they are afraid.”

Compared to Facebook, The FaceTag is a little potato to say the least. But among TikTok commentators, there seems to be a feeling that they are doing a public service by criticizing the next Mark Zuckerberg before he potentially ruins the company.

On the phone with Insider, Chow looked exhausted from the intense comments. But he still wants The FaceTag to grow. He said he wanted to start “advertising more soon”. In TikTok’s comments, he also expressed interest in fundraising (“How do I invest?” Someone said, “I’m working on it,” Chow replied).

And, of course, extend it to non-Harvard users. “Turn it into an app outside of Harvard, then you’ll be a millionaire,” someone said on TikTok. “This is the plan,” he replied.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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