YouTube Launches Face-blurring Tool
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Google announced on Wednesday that it would begin allowing people to blur their faces on YouTube videos, saying the move was intended to help protect the anonymity of political dissidents and others.
“Today, we announced a new face blurring tool that represents a first step toward providing visual anonymity in video,” wrote Victoria Grand, Director of Global Communications and Policy for YouTube, in a posting on Google’s Public Policy blog.
The Internet search giant said it hopes the new tool will encourage more people to speak out by providing added safety for those who could face harsh repercussions from governments or drug cartels if they were identified in a YouTube video.
“As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them,” wrote YouTube policy associate Amanda Conway in a post on the official YouTube blog.
However, the new feature doesn’t have to be just for political protestors, the company said.
“Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube,” wrote Conway.
The face-blurring technology breaks human faces into blurry blocks, similar to the way Google prevents the identification of people photographed by its Street View mapping cars.
The new feature can be found under YouTube’s Video Enhancements tool. From there, users can go to ‘Additional Feature’ and click the ‘Apply’ button to ‘Blur All Faces’.
Video uploaders can then review their video frame-by-frame to ensure the blurring was effective. After applying the filter, the video user is then given the choice to delete the original video from Google’s servers.
However, the company warned that the tool wouldn’t necessarily work on every face.
“This is emerging technology, which means it sometimes has difficulty detecting faces depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality. It’s possible that certain faces or frames will not be blurred. If you are not satisfied with the accuracy of the blurring as you see it in the preview, you may wish to keep your video private,” Conway wrote.
Various political groups and human rights organizations have used videos to effect political change in recent years. For instance, graphic footage in videos from Syria and Egypt were used to get news out to the world at a time when reporters were banned from a particular area. Videos have also been used to recruit new members to political causes and to grow movements.
Google was careful to call the face-blurring feature a “first step” only, and warned that simply blurring faces will not always be enough to preserve anonymity from a determined adversary, particularly one capable of monitoring the network used to upload and share videos.
“Of course, anonymity is never a guarantee, and people who capture sensitive video footage should consider taking other precautions to keep themselves and their subjects safe,” Grand wrote in her blog posting.
The company offered the following suggestions for helping anyone interested in posting videos that may carry risks of reprisal:
1. Assess your risk. You and the people you film may face risk by posting video online. You may risk your own safety and that of your subjects while filming sensitive footage, during the editing process, and when you distribute your film online. After assessing the vulnerability you and your subjects face, you can make more informed decisions about when to film, whether to distribute your footage, and how widely you want to share it.
2. Consider other information that may give away identity. Video footage of your face is not the only way someone can detect your identity. Other factors that may be caught on video can also identify you or your subjects. Watch out for vocal identifiers, like recognizable voices or saying someone’s name on camera. Other footage can give away identity like a license plate, a nametag, or even the background scenery. Make sure that the imagery in your videos does not give away information about your location or identity.
3. Protect yourself when uploading. Consider, for example, local laws that may allow authorities to track the mobile device from which you upload. In certain countries, merely purchasing a sim card puts users at risk of tracking by government.