Innovation Watch: When is a meme not a meme?

Is the #10YearChallenge a fun meme or an example of us unwittingly training Facial Recognition A.I.? We look at the risks we create when we share information online.

We’ve all seen the posts “Here’s my #10YearChallenge guys! What do you think?” We’ve even posted a few ourselves. But when tech author Kate O’Neill posted a semi-joking tweet wondering if the data could be mined by companies to train facial recognition algorithms on ageing.

Ah. Well, it was fun while it lasted!

The idea quickly gained traction and press coverage. O’Neill wrote an article for Wired to expand on her point. She explained that while she wasn’t necessarily claiming there was a sinister plot afoot, only that it was absolutely plausible.

Facebook, by the way, says it has nothing to do with the #10YearChallenge and that it’s simply a meme that went viral.

Even if Facebook is collecting our face data, what’s the harm? Improving age-based facial recognition could help police find children missing over long periods of time. But it could also be used to tailor ads to you, or increase your life insurance if it looks like you’re ageing faster than your friends.

Sounds a bit far-fetched, right? Well, not really. There’s been numerous examples over the last few years of companies using games and memes to extract data on social media, with Cambridge Analytica being the most famous example of this.

Even if it is all a silly meme there’s still a message in all this: we need to be more aware than ever of the data we share. Nothing we do is in a vacuum any more.