Big Brother Needs Your Help!

Category: Facebook

Every time you tag a person in a photo on Facebook you are helping Big Brother solve one of his toughest and most pressing problems: How to identify anyone from any picture of him or her. Here's why you might want to stop tagging, and steps to keep others from tagging you...

Should You Stop Tagging People In Facebook Pics?

Every time someone tags you in a photo they make it easier for Facebook or anyone else to build a dossier of your activities and hangouts outside of Facebook. Tagging expands the surveillance state vastly and in ways Big Brother could not use without citizens’ unwitting help.

All by themselves, authorities face two big challenges to facial recognition. The first is a function of the technology’s accuracy rate and probability theory. The second is a matter of scale: how many identified pictures of people do you have?

In a one-on-one matchup of a random photo of you and the identified photo on your driver’s license, there is a 95 percent probability that facial recognition tech will correctly identify the random photo as one of you. But when comparing one photo to many, the probability of a successful match plummets rapidly; it is a multiplicative function of multiple attempts, not just a linear additive function.
Face Tagging and Big Brother

The second problem is getting everyone into a database of identified photos, and getting lots of different identified photos of each person. Obviously, the probability of finding a person in a database is better the more different people you have in the database. The probability of a given photo matching one of several of the same person increases if the pool of potential match-ups includes various angles, clothing, lighting effects, and so on.

A Billion Worker Bees

Big Brother cannot easily solve these problems by himself. But when a billion Facebook users busily upload and tag pictures of themselves and others in various settings, both of BB’s problems get solved fast and for free. Right this minute, Facebook has the largest biometric database in the world, and it is not secure from government intrusion.

Every promise made in Facebook’s privacy policy is hedged by the words, “unless required by a lawful order” or similar legalese. A lawful order can be obtained by any government agency, and also by any private party as part of a civil action. A lawful order can be issued by an impartial judge after a thorough show-cause hearing or by a decidedly biased prosecutor, even by a low-level flunky who can fill out a boilerplate “national security letter” for anyone who asks.

So stop tagging people in photos on Facebook, and don’t let people tag you. The first recommendation is easy to follow, the second takes a bit of work now and then. These four steps will maximize your "facial privacy" when it comes to tagging on Facebook:

How to Limit Facebook Tagging

First, log in to your Facebook account, then click the little gear icon, near the top right of the page. On the dropdown menu, select Account Settings. Over in the left-hand sidebar, click on Notifications. Under What you get notified about you will find Tags. Click on the Edit link at the right end of that line. You want to be notified when "Anyone" tags you.

Back on the sidebar you will find Timeline and Tagging. Enable the Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? option. This gives you the ability to approve any tags that friends make, before they appear on Facebook.

The next option is: When you're tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience if they aren't already in it? Set this to "Only me".

And finally, there's Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded? Set this to "No one".

Now tagging is squelched as much as Facebook will allow. Hopefully, that will be sufficient. The best thing you can do is stop tagging, tell everyone who tags you to stop, and block anyone who does not respect your privacy.

Do you have something to say about Facebook tagging? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Big Brother Needs Your Help!"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

I had a facebook account at one time....couple of years ago. But that is when, suddenly, I started getting tons of SPAM. I canceled the FaceBook account and, only now are the numbers of SPAM messages beginning to decrease.
However, I do have 3 children and 9 grandchildren, some of whom DO have FaceBook accounts. So I'm forwarding a link to this article to them.....for their information. I hope they take is seriously.
Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

You should also, whilst on the timeline and tagging page, go to the top entry, "who can add things to my timeline" and click on "review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline." "Enable."

I do appreciate the image search suggestions that are in the above comments.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

It's not just FB folks. If you carry a smartphone with you all the info on it is easily downloaded to third parties. Many bosses and spouses track their employees and partners routinely, you do not have to possess a smartphone to install spyware on it. Apple phones are the easiest to do, but Androids can be rigged too.
Most spying is done by corporations, not governments.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

Great article Bob. While I do not use facebook, I did by curiosity go there many years ago to see what it was all about. I had to open an account to understand it was not for me, or any person not wanting to be spied on. why anyone in this day and age would still want to use facebook or sites like it knowing how they use your information is beyond me. I tried closing my account, only to not be able to close it completely. they still try to trick me into going there but I will not be fooled.

Posted by:

Mac and Cheese
05 Nov 2013

As one not on Facebook, I followed your suggestion to do a Google images search. As an experiment, I searched for

Bob Rankin

Even with your fairly uncommon last name, the search yielded HUNDREDS of photos, both male and female, that matched your first and last name, but only TWO that I recognized as you.

I also did the search with my name, which, according to, is only slightly more common than yours. I had similar results.

Therefore, maybe I'm LESS WORRIED than when I first read your article. Maybe Facebook makes Big Brother's job harder, by giving so many, many "wrong" matches for a given name.

What do you think, Bob?

Posted by:

Ken Newcomer
05 Nov 2013

I'll try tagging the person next to me with my name. The face recognition folks will have to figure out which is the real me by comparing multiple group pictures.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

Thanks Bob. I don't have a facebook account and, based on the info you've provided, I'm warning my family and friends.

Posted by:

Godfrey Daniels
05 Nov 2013

If you want to be on Facebook, just substitute an Avatar for your pic. & Never post any pics of yourself, family or friends, or tag any of above.
I use the pic of a Rock & Roll radio host from the 70's.

Posted by:

Mac and Cheese
05 Nov 2013

Hey, Godfrey, You said, "I use the pic of a Rock & Roll radio host from the 70's."

That might be ME! You're not using a picture of "Mack at Night" are you???

--Mack at Night, now known as Mac and Cheese

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

I knew there was a reason I wanted nothing to do with FB from the start. (Actually, the subject of this story is just one more reason.)

Posted by:

Constantin Dragan
05 Nov 2013

Thanks a lot, Bob, for another very useful article.

I followed your suggestions step by step but, when I tried to fix the "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?" I discovered that this service is not available to me.

In my opinion this can be either very good or very bad news. :)

I am wondering if I am the only one getting this message?

Posted by:

05 Nov 2013

While some individuals may simply avoid Facebook, Google, etc, the best solution for users in general may be to make the thoroughness of a data collection system work against itself. For example, if sufficient numbers of users were to deliberately tag wrong or random images, the database would become increasingly unreliable. In fact, since their algorithms are constantly adapting to improve accuracy, doing this may also cause them to permanently "learn" to misinterpret the valid data that they do get.

Of course, not many users would be committed enough to keep doing this themselves, so a program or app should be written and freely distributed by privacy experts (Steve Gibson, are you listening?) to automate the submission of incorrect photo tags as a background process. The same program could also periodically alter certain data about one's browser and computer in order to spoil the "fingerprinting" referred to in a previous article (where I posted a similar suggestion)...

Posted by:

Lesley McLaughlin
06 Nov 2013

Lots of response on your Facebook tag column! Do you know if I can tell who has looked for me on Facebook (and not asked to become my friend)? Asked another way: Does a person stay anonymous when they've looked me up but not tried to 'friend' me?

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

Thanks to all those who commented. It gives me extra insight to the discussion, which I thoroughly enjoy. Cheers! And best regards. john.

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

I know this will go down like a lead balloon but why anyone feels the need to use Facebook I just do not understand, there are other, better, ways to communicate with family and friends. The more I read about it the more I'm glad I have nothing to do with it, or any other "social" networking site for that matter. Yes, the gullible can do what they wish and that's fair in a fair world. But this world is far from being fair, sadly. Play with fire by all means, but don't complain when you get your fingers burnt folks.

All this information you give to these sites will no doubt end up in the archives of the national security services of whichever country you are in. I'm 71 years old and been around the world a bit and I'm genuinely worried about the way people are giving away their freedom willingly. It's good to point this 'tagging' problem Bob. Keep this sort of info coming, you may actually get through one day!

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

Thanks so much for this Bob. Is there a way for me to "like" this so that it will appear on my Facebook page? I'd really like to let friends and family know how to do this as well, if they so choose. Thanks for your great newsletter. I learn so much from you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: YES! Click the green ShareThis button at the top right of the page. OR, you can copy the URL of the page, and post it as a link on your FB wall.

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

Good information - as usual. I got an unavailable for "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?" - the same as Constantin. I get announcements for events that are thinly disguised ads. I'm not friends with the ad poster. How does that work? Can I shut it off?
Sigh - FB is a pain. However it is the only way I can hear much about grandkids from half way around the world. Wish someone would figure out a way to condense all those posts legally.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like the difference is your location. Some Facebook features are different outside of the USA. Hopefully this will roll out globally soon.

Posted by:

Bill Hebert
07 Nov 2013

Hi Bob,
I don't tag on face book, but my wife does so I let her read this, so she will see what she is really doing. Thanks for the info.


Posted by:

09 Nov 2013

Very Nice "Public Service Announcement", Mr. Bob Rankin.
Under the "note" section of my facebook page, I wrote:
Facebook Manifesto (March 27, 2013 at 4:12pm)
*I don't want to be your friend nor do I want to befriend you.
*I don't care if you follow me or like my posts!
*Conversely, I promise to not follow you nor like your posts either.
*I have no grandeur visions to leave an indelible mark on social networks.
*The only suggestion I can provide you is to be careful diving in the shallow side of this pool!
*Unfortunately, I am not certain if there is deeper side!
I use facebook as a blog of things I don't want to forget and it is ALL public. Of course, NOT using a real name, I don't feel as paranoid nor do I feel like I am being PeepingTom'ed by whomever!

Posted by:

11 Nov 2013

I set up the levels as in the article and then I posted a photo of my but did not identify him except by first name. He attempted to tag his photo and then of course it notified me. I messaged him and sent him a link to this article. But he still wanted to tag it (he said, to let his buddies from his former Army unit to see the photos). Sigh. ;-( You can lead a horse to water.....

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