Here’s why privacy advocates are concerned about the “10 year challenge”

If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen the “10 year challenge” by now.

It’s that thing where people are posting a 2009 photo alongside one from 2019.

For many it’s an attention grab — showing off changes (and improvements) in hair, weight, muscle.

Like fine wine, we’re all getting better with age, right?

But as the challenge gets more popular, spreading across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, privacy advocates are spreading warnings that the challenge could also be an attempt to compile facial recognition data.

The challenge concerns were first outlined by Kate O’Neill in a Wired opinion piece.

“Thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large dataset of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now,” O’Neill wrote.

“Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart-say, 10 years.”

Facebook was quick to respond, saying it did not start the trend and it’s a user-generated meme that went viral on its own.

“Facebook gains nothing from this meme (besides reminding us of the questionable fashion trends of 2009). As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time,” Facebook said in a statement.

In its “privacy basics” section, Facebook outlines how it says it’s using face recognition technology. “We use face recognition technology so we can offer features that do things like:”

  • let you tag people quickly and easily
  • help protect you from strangers using a photo of you as their profile picture
  • help people with visual impairments by telling them who’s in a photo or video
  • and let you know when you might appear in photos or videos, but haven’t been tagged

But even if Facebook didn’t initiate the challenge and says it gains nothing from it, technology experts say it can be a treasure trove of information for other companies working on facial recognition.

“This is a moment to think about this because it’s not just the 10 year challenge,” Wired senior writer and CBS News contributor Issie Lapowsky said Thursday during CBS This Morning.

She explained that because a hashtag is associated with the challenge, anyone with a public account is making 10-year-challenge pictures easily searchable and available to anyone who wants them.

“Experts wonder about how this could be used by, for instance, insurance companies. Are they looking at whether you tend to be aging faster than the rest of us?” Lapowsky said.

If you’re concerned, check your privacy settings to make sure you’re only sharing with friends and people who you want to see your pictures and profile information.

Or — just skip the challenge.

Jon Chrisos

About Jon Chrisos

Award-winning journalist Jon Chrisos is the investigative and consumer reporter at CBS 13 in Portland. He also anchors weeknights at 5:30. Chrisos is “On Your Side” investigating the stories that make a difference in your life. He’s passionate about helping those who’ve been wronged, exposing government waste, asking tough questions, and uncovering the truth.