Google fights against Big Brother
On Wednesday, YouTube has started to offer a new feature that automatically blurs the faces of the people in uploaded videos with a single click.
The tool is primarily designed to help political dissidents to conceal their identity, but can also be used for a variety of other purposes. The technology looks similar to what has been used in Google StreetView for several years.
According to the international human rights organization WITNESS, no other video-sharing service currently offers such anonymisation features.
Better safe than sorry
YouTube hosts an increasing amount of politically themed footage, some of it coming from countries with oppressive regimes, such as Syria. Although these videos do a great job of helping protesters get more exposure, they can also be used by the governments to identify and lock up the freedom fighters.
This inspired YouTube to create the Face Blur tool as a part of its Video Enhancements menu. Now, videos can be made completely by pressing a button. The feature also allows users to delete the original copies of the videos for added security.
Google warns that since face blurring is an “emerging technology”, it is by no means perfect. Successful face detection depends on the angle of the camera, lighting conditions, obstructions and video quality. YouTube allows users to preview the video before publishing, to make sure the desired effect has been achieved.
Google has also published additional guidelines that can help people who upload sensitive footage on its video platform. It recommends assessing risks and avoiding verbal giveaways that can be used to identify subjects in the video, such as saying someone’s name on camera.
Besides faces, other visual identifiers include car license plates, name tags, unusual clothing and even landmarks in the background. The company also recommends taking precautions while uploading the videos, since many devices can be tracked, especially in countries with heavy surveillance.
“YouTube is proud to be a destination where people worldwide come to share their stories, including activists. Along with efforts like the Human Rights Channel and Citizentube that curate these voices, we hope that the new technologies we’re rolling out will facilitate the sharing of even more stories on our platform,” said a post on the YouTube blog.
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