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#10YearChallenge: harmless trend or boon to facial recognition tech?

New York

THE #10YearChallenge was all fun and memes until last week after a tweet moved thousands of people to worry: are we unknowingly helping giant corporations to improve their algorithms for biometric identification and age progression?

The #10YearChallenge gained widespread traction on social media this month. It calls for posting two photos of yourself side by side - one from today and one from a decade ago - to show how you've changed.

People are participating mostly on Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Some made jokes, paid tribute to old hairstyles or drew attention to issues like global warming. Celebrities posted glamour shots that showed negligible changes from one decade to the next.

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But one post went viral without featuring any side-by-side photos. It was written by Kate O'Neill, author of the book Tech Humanist: How You Can Make Technology Better for Business and Better for Humans.

"Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture ageing meme going around on Facebook and Instagram," she wrote in a tweet last week. "Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition."

Her words hit a nerve. People responded with concerns about whether they were helping the tech

giant get better at identifying people. Ms O'Neill's post got more than 10,000 retweets and more than 20,000 likes. She expanded on her thoughts in a widely shared article in Wired.

Experts said the photos uploaded for the #10YearChallenge were drops in a very, very big bucket of data that Facebook has been collecting for years.

Supporters of facial recognition technologies said they can be indispensable for catching criminals or finding missing people. But critics warned they can enable mass surveillance or have unintended effects that we can't yet fully fathom.

Lauren A Rhue, an assistant professor at the Wake Forest School of Business, said people should be wary of any company being in possession of such a large trove of biometric data. "There are things we don't think of as being threats," she said. "And then five or 10 years from now, we realise that there is a threat, but the data has already been given." NYTIMES