YouTube Launches ‘Blur Faces’ Tool to Protect Online Anonymity
As more and more websites – case in point, Facebook – make moves to rid the internet of anonymity and irreversibly combine online and offline life, it is at least some reassurance that some big technology companies are acting to preserve online anonymity. This week, YouTube launched a “blur faces” post production tool that, in theory, allows users to disguise the visual identity of everyone on the screen.
The Pew Research Centre released a report saying YouTube users are consuming more and more news-related videos, with natural disasters and political upheavals the most popular news video topics. “As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them,” said Amanda Conway, policy associate at YouTube. The launch of the feature was explained with the example of the Arab Spring protests in Egypt – “human rights footage, in particular, opens up new risks to the people posting videos and those filmed.”
The feature can be found in YouTube’s Video Enhancement tool, as a ‘Blur All Faces’ option in Additional Features. The video can be previewed before going live, and the non-blurred original copy of the video can then be deleted from your account. In a blog post announcing the new feature, Google spoke about its pride as being a home for activist videos, and hoped the new features abilty to preserve visual anonymity would encourage more people to speak out against oppression. “Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube.”
Google stressed the technology is still emerging and doesn’t guarantee all faces will be blurred completely. There isn’t yet an interface for choosing which faces to blur, or any options to disguise voices. This feature, however, is an important first step in beginning to embed such practical features into consumer applications for the benefit of the rising community of online journalists and citizen bloggers. This practical feature sees YouTube recognizing and reacting to the changing needs of its users, and opens up many new possibilities for the future of online and citizen journalism. A tutorial for use of this new feature can be found at thehindu.com.