Week Three: Dataveillance, BIometrics & Facial Recognition

If you are following this course online, please complete assignments between Sept 22-26 by uploading photos and posting texts to the Flickr group.

Week Dates for
Assignments
Weekly
Topic
Dates for
Online 
Discussion
Faculty 
Discussion 
Leaders
3 Sept 22-26 Biometrics, facial recognition
and dataveillance critiques
Sept 29-3 Elizabeth Losh,
Jill Rettberg-
Walker

SUMMARY OF WHAT WE’LL COVER THIS WEEK:

We may create our selfies with a human audience in minds, but our images are also increasingly read by non-humans. Facebook and other sites use facial recognition software and biometrics to find photos of faces and determine who they depict. Our selfies are collected by the NSA and other government agencies, by commerical companies like Facebook and sometimes by criminals as well.

RELATED BLOG POSTS

KEY THEORETICAL POINTS:

Sousveillance. Data doubles. New aesthetics. Dataism.

READING ASSIGNMENTS

CASE STUDIES TO THINK THROUGH THEORIES:

IMAGE PRODUCTION ASSIGNMENT

Plan and photograph one or more of the following selfies, and post it to the Flickr group with a explanatory text.

  1. Find one of the categories of biometric analysis (gender, age, weight, race, etc.) and shoot a photo that you think might “fool” a non-human audience member into interpreting you as different from the way you typically present.
  2. Photograph yourself in a way in which facial recognition software or similar techniques would not be able to identify as you, but that still expresses something meaningful about you.
  3. Locate all of the cameras in your home, campus, workplace, neighborhood, or community and shoot a series of “sousvies” in which you shoot an image of yourself with a surveilling device — overhead camera in checkout line, camera in ATM machine, etc. — in the frame.  How might the gaze of the device see you differently?   Could you stage a “survie” that shows how cameras see you when you aren’t conscious of the fact that they are taking your picture? (Tip: Do not do this activity in places where photographing these technologies may be forbidden, such as airports or banks.)
  4. Create a series of selfies over time that seems to document a process that could also be represented quantitatively.  This can be difficult to do in a week, but might be an assignment to think about over time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
Think of some cases when people are forced to be photographed or to share photographs of themselves (police mug shots, immigration applications).

What data could be extracted from the image?  What data is captured by the camera on the digital file?  How can we know where that digital file has traveled?  How do biometrics gather information from facial proportions?  Are there recognizable brand-names in the image?

REFLECTION ESSAY PROMPT:

Make a data visualization using a set of related selfies (being mindful of people’s privacy) and then curate both the individual selfies in the set and the patterns that you see in aggregate. For example, you might want to curate “images with beards” or “images with eyeglasses” or “images with drink cups” or “images with readable commercial logos” just to get started, and then come up with more subtle categorization patterns. How can you create patterns that resist the patterns sought by the interests of corporations and the state?

Your sources could for instance be Facebook profile pictures (here’s how to download a lot of them), images from Selfiecity or recent selfies posted to Instagram, for instance found by doing a hashtag search.

If you are doing this assignment for a class at a university, ask your teacher whether you need to contact a research ethics board or similar. This will vary from country to country and institution to institution. For the purposes of this course, if you are in doubt, you can collect the selfies but not show the actual images in your essay. Either trace over them to show the outlines of the image, or choose a form of visualisation that does not use the original images.

 

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Selfies Syllabus by The Selfies Research Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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