In the last few years, companies have started using such race-detection software to understand how certain customers use their products, who looks at their ads, or what people of different racial groups like. Others use the tool to seek different racial features in stock photography collections, typically for ads, or in security, to help narrow down the search for someone in a database. In China, where face tracking is widespread, surveillance cameras have been equipped with race-scanning software to track ethnic minorities. The field is still developing, and it is an open question how companies, governments and individuals will take advantage of such technology in the future. Use of the software is fraught, as researchers and companies have begun to recognize its potential to drive discrimination, posing challenges to widespread adoption.
Police may soon have a new way to catch pedophiles who distribute child abuse photos anonymously online. The technology could also help law enforcement agencies in other ways, such as identifying smartphone thieves who take pictures with the stolen gadgets and then post their snapshots on the Internet. Riccardo Satta, scientific project officer of the European Commission Joint Research Center's Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, described the work he did with fellow researcher Pasquale Stirparo at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference in Brussels held in January.* The key is the ability to spot a unique, unremovable pattern--or signature--that each digital camera imprints on photographs. By comparing the signature from a specific camera with those found in images posted to social media, a forensic investigator would be able to establish that all the images had been taken by the same camera.