That Instagram selfie you posted is an open invitation for surveillance

That Instagram selfie you posted is an open invitation for surveillance

The next time you pose for an Instagram photo in public, don’t forget to smile for the many security cameras in the area as well. “The Follower” might be watching.

Artist based in Belgium Dries DepoorterThe latest project from ‘The Follower’ reveals how often people are watched in public. And all he needed to find his real-life social media targets was a photo they posted on Instagram, owned by Meta.

“One day I saw a person taking photos for about 20 minutes and was trying to find the photo on Instagram a day later with no success,” Depoorter told Mashable. “Then I started building the [artificial intelligence] Software.”


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Using facial recognition software created by Depoorter and footage from open cameras streaming live from public spaces around the world, the artist was able to find videos from Instagrammers preparing to take a photo which they then posted on the social media platform. It’s an interesting look at what happens behind the scenes of a curated Instagram photo. More importantly, it shows how much information can be extracted from a photo posted online.

The open cameras used by Depoorter for this project are available to anyone, anywhere to watch anytime on websites like EarthCam. These cameras film people in public spaces around the world, seemingly without the knowledge of those being broadcast.

Projects results are a telling reminder that there’s a good chance you’ll be recorded when you’re in a public space. It also sheds light on how much information we unknowingly give away about our lives when we participate in social media.

In one Instagram photo, for example, a woman in a long jacket holds her white handbag and looks behind her as she poses outside Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland. Depoorter was able to find video of the woman in the photo as she posed for the photo via an open CCTV camera perched above the street and pointed towards the corner of The Temple Bar.

In another photo, two young men pose for an Instagram photo in Times Square in New York. Depoorter was able to find video of them walking down the street towards their photographer for the shot via a camera broadcast over Times Square.

Seeing these types of Instagram users prepare their perfect shot is what inspired Depoorter to create “The Follower” in the first place. Though he admits following these Instagrammers wasn’t as simple as sitting back and letting his AI software scavenge open camera footage for a game.

“Finding the people in the videos. It was super hard,” Depoorter said.

While “The Follower” is a new piece from Depoorter, the artist has been doing art projects using open cameras for years. For example, in 2018 he launched his project “Jaywalking Frames”. Using “unprotected surveillance cameras and custom software,” Depoorter took snapshots of people walking around cities around the world.

Another project launched last year, “The Flemish Scrollers”, used artificial intelligence software to follow Belgian politicians live during meetings of the Flemish parliament. The AI ​​would search for politicians using their smartphones on the live video stream, automatically tag them via Twitterand call them out for being distracted.

As disturbing as Depoorter’s AI-powered art projects that monitor Instagrammers or politicians on live streams may be, they have nothing about what kind of surveillance governments or big tech companies can use to track you or anyone else.


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Notorious facial recognition company Clearview AI, for example, has made headlines in recent years for its chilling ability to find and track individuals based on its database of tens of billions of retrieved public images. on the Web. The company has sold its services to law enforcement across the country.

“In all my work I try to show the dangers of new technologies,” Depoorter said. “I’m just a person with limited access to data and cameras. Imagine what a government or private organizations can do.”

“The Follower” provides an important reminder for all of us in this digital age: assume you’re being watched always.

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