Facebook’s facial recognition is being used to find missing people

Facebook knows a lot about you, me, all of us – as the recent data debacle around Cambridge Analytica has shown. Many feel that Facebook knowing so much is a bad thing, but one group in Australia is out to use Facebook’s information as a power for good.

Australia’s Missing Persons Action Network (MPAN) has launched a campaign that puts Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm to use as a means to help locate people who have gone off the social network and off the grid. In a new campaign, called Invisible Friends, Facebook users are encouraged to add profiles of missing people as friends so that, once they’re tagged in an image MPAN is notified.

Thanks to GDPR, Facebook now has to ask your permission to build a 3D profile of your face but, as MPAN is outside of the EU and creates profiles for missing people, Facebook will automatically tag anyone it recognises in a post. This means that MPAN will be notified when photos of a missing individual crop up on the social network.

“This is the 2018 high-tech missing persons poster,” explained MPAN founder and CEO Loren O’Keeffe in an email to Mashable. “We’re simply taking advantage of technology that’s now freely available – and it’s never been easier for people to get involved.”

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Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm is worryingly accurate. While the company has never disclosed just how good it is, a paper looking at its DeepFace algorithm revealed it assessed 4,000 pictures of people with around a 97% accuracy. If you ever decide to download your entire Facebook history to see what the company knows about you, you’ll also be able to see every instance its facial recognition algorithm has mapped your face.

If you’re wondering about just how scalable this solution is, MPAN has outlined that each profile it creates can have a maximum of 5,000 friends. Depending on individual friend settings, Facebook’s facial recognition tool works by recognising your face in friends of friends pictures too meaning that, if you go by the average of 300 friends per profile, opens up a single missing person account to around 1.5 million profiles searching for a missing individual. That’s far more eyes than you’d get with a traditional Missing person’s account.

The Facebook profiles also won’t be posting content, they’re simply going to be used to help discover the locations and situations of people via Facebook’s algorithm. You shouldn’t be seeing posts appearing on your feed via these accounts, they’ll just sit there on your friends list as if they were invisible.

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Even if nobody is found via the service, MPAN is still counting the campaign as a win. Ultimately, the charity hopes to bring the discussion around missing people to the front of our minds.

“Our measure of success is based on our objective as an organisation,” O’Keeffe explains, “to create awareness for both the issue of missing persons as well as the individual loved ones, and to provide practical support to their families in order to alleviate the overwhelming stress of ambiguous loss.”

If you’d like to help out with the campaign, as missing people do indeed crop up almost anywhere in the world, you can do so by adding any one of MPAN’s missing individuals.

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