Wired: Facebook Could Secretly be Data Mining the ’10 Year Challenge’ Meme

Mark Zuckerberg
Getty/Saul Loeb

Facebook’s popular “10 Year Challenge” could potentially be a data mining ploy under the guise of a harmless Internet meme. The data could be used to train machines to better recognize age-progression characteristics, according to Wired magazine.

If you’ve scrolled through your social media feeds recently, you may have noticed a popular new Facebook trend known as the “10 Year Challenge,” in which users upload two photos of themselves side-by-side, one current photo alongside one photo from a decade ago.

At first, the trend may seem like an innocent Facebook meme, but social media users may actually be unknowingly aiding potential data mining to train machines for facial recognition, specifically having to do with aging, as first speculated in a Wired op-ed by Katie O’Neill.

“Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression,” says O’Neill in her op-ed, “You’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart.”

The writer notes that critics of this speculation could say that it wouldn’t matter, because the company already has decade-old photos of its users, as they have already uploaded them to Facebook.

While that may be true, photos uploaded ten years ago could be of anything. They could be pets, memes, sunsets, or even “throwbacks.”

Not every individual on Facebook uses the platform in the same way — unless they’re participating in a popular trend — so by joining in on the 10 Year Challenge, social media users are already doing the work for the tech giant themselves, clearly labeling which photos are of them, and how many years apart they were taken.

O’Neill says a Facebook spokesperson insists that the photo challenge was not started by the social media company, and was “a user-generated meme that went viral on its own.”

“Facebook gains nothing from this meme,” says the spokesperson, “As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time.”

Despite the company insisting that its users have autonomy, many have not yet forgotten about last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, when Facebook was scrutinized for allegedly allowing the data mining company to misuse data for 50 million of its users.

“Regardless of the origin or intent behind this meme, we must all become savvier about the data we create and share, the access we grant to it, and the implications for its use,” writes O’Neill, “humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.

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