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Face Blurring Is Good News and Bad News

It’s long since past the time when Paul Simon sang, ‘I get the news I need from the weather report.’ (The Only Living Boy in New York, 1970). Then, maybe, a person only needed the weather, without heavy analysis and spin.

These days the news is big business and a 24-hour enterprise. Even the news is new itself – such as the BBC leaving Bush House or moving most activity from London to Salford.

Google Is Back in the News

Hardly a day without a few Google stories to lighten the day’s reports of war, famine and austerity. Now they are providing face-blurring technology for all videos uploaded on YouTube.

They say that the technological development will ‘protect human rights activists’ in places like Syria, Libya and Egypt where it can be dangerous to be recognised participating in a wide range of activities. That may be so and even be justification for the face-blurring.

We have got used to the faces of children and innocent people being altered beyond recognition on television screens, even when beside adults who are famous or infamous. Locally, the faces of children will be known through their connections with whatever the story is about. It;s right to protect the anonymity of children caught up in a story where people do not need to see who they are. It may protect people from perverts, abusive and crimes.

However, it may also simultaneously protect criminals. In the 2011 summer riots, many perpetrators posted themselves on YouTube ransacking shops and looting goods. Other videos caught crimes without the villains knowing. One was of a looter staggering from a smashed shop window with a massive TV, only to be relieved it violently by other thugs stood waiting outside.

Perhaps the best example of open identity on YouTube was the video showing a group of men robbing a Malaysian student while pretending to help him. Thanks to that, they were jailed.

Even in normal times, burglars have been known to post incriminating footage of their antics which has enabled police to track them down and prosecute them. This new technology means that many offences uploaded could go unsolved and therefore unpunished.

Optional Blurring of Faces

There will be a blurring option for all faces and a chance to hide identities. YouTube will then produce both a blurred out version of the original, allowing users to choose which to transmit. However, if the full vision version is deleted, it will not be stored in Google’s archives or servers.

YouTube has come up with a typical sounding piece of justifying-speak, ‘YouTube is committed to creating even better tools….’ blah blah.

In a sense, it’s just part of the democratisation of news gathering. The advent of the smartphone to create sharp, usually broadcast-quality real-time evidence of events/people/abuses/disasters and transmit them instantly, has made everybody a potential newsgatherer.

It seems that YouTube has become the news medium of choice for millions of people around the world, more important than news bulletins, radio broadcasts or printed media. And, even more tellingly, it has become the news source for most news channels too.

If a story is on YouTube, they follow it up and make a further story, often re-broadcasting the YouTube clip too.

In a world where constantly changing updates are demanded and expected, everything has become news, from a world catastrophe to what your Facebook ‘friend’ had for dinner. It’s not just a small world after all, it’s a ‘what’s vital, viral, breaking, trending now? newsfeed world.

Thus, the news feeds on itself and now with a digitalised appetite that seems unquenchable.

And as if to prove it, there is now a ‘Newseum’ in Washing DC, an interactive depository, discussion-based update on what’s hot about news, both new and old!

Read On:

YouTube, Face blurring: when footage requires anonymity, 18 July 2012
When the Family Becomes a Nice Little Earner
‘Anonymous’ on the Web Is Now a Rare Breed
Newseum, The Future of News

Image: Nach0King