My earlier musings on Web 2.0’s focus on the collection of (personal) metadata and the potential for the commercial aggregation of images of my likeness come into renewed focus with the launch of Riya (needs IE6 for PC; Firefox for Mac). Riya is a photo sharing and search site that lets you tag and search images based on facial and text recognition technology. Here’s how it works: you upload your photo library to Riya and “tag” the faces in your photos by putting a box around them and labelling it with the person’s name. After you have named a few faces, Riya’s facial recognition technology will take over and attempt to automatically tag different faces it “recognizes” so that you don’t have to.

From Riya’s vision statement:

Riya is more than photo search. Our goal is to help you find every photo of yourself on the web. We want to help you recover every moment, every place you’ve been and all of the people you’ve met along the way. We want to give you the tools to discover your future, every place you want to go and meet new friends. We will be successful when we can find every digital photo in the world.

In essence, Riya aims to create a vast database of facial recognition profiles. Sure, it would be great if I could easily search for pictures of me on the web, but do I want others to be able to do that as well? Could this provide a useful tool for stalkers looking for a particular person? Abusive partners trying to track down their victim? (Note that Riya also uploads and indexes all the metadata related to your photos, including the date and time is was taken, when it was uploaded, etc. Users can also tag and search photos based on location).

I don’t want to be alarmist, but there are externalities once all of the images of our daily lives (and their related metadata) are uploaded to the Internet, indexed, searchable, and accessible to all. I haven’t had time to fully consider this new trend, but it deserves serious attention.

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