Catfish and the Con Men

Catfish and the Con Men

The craft of impersonating somebody else by stealing their identity online has been around since the dawn of the internet. The practise of ‘catfishing’ almost always has a motive and is most commonly used for malicious purposes, often resulting in the catfish harming or stealing from their victim.

The term was coined by the film Catfish. Nev, the personality and ‘victim’ of the film, walks us through his own story; from the moment he ‘met’ his online paramour to the discovery of with whom he is actually communicating. The climax of the film is a clip of the paramour’s husband telling an old story about how during long transit, between Alaska and China, cod would become sedate and under stimulated in their tank, leading them to become stale and tasteless. He goes on to say that by adding catfish the cod were kept agile and stimulated, resulting in better quality cod.

The metaphor is fitting for online communication because catfish mean you have to always be alert to the dangers and be extremely careful of who you connect with. Unfortunately, most social media public authentication is only used to verify celebrities and brands. But what about the rest of us? How do we make sure we aren’t being catfished?

Facebook has announced that it is testing a security feature that will allow you to unlock your account using your face, much in the same way Apple’s new face ID works. The company says the feature will help users regain access to locked accounts, but, imagine if it were to be combined with the facial recognition software Facebook is already using on the photos uploaded its network. The two could be used in unison to verify if the person accessing an account is the same person in the account photos. It would become an extremely powerful verification tool, almost stopping identity fraud in its tracks. Not only could it be used to prevent catfishes, but it could even help to prevent paedophiles from befriending and baiting vulnerable young children with fake accounts.

The problem is that our face, and the identity that comes with it, is an extremely personal piece of information. We have to remember that Facebook is not the government or a body that works for the ‘good of the people’. As much as Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is a power for good, you must remember that the entire operation is funded not by the users, but by corporations paying for your information and advertising space. If you weren’t already aware, when you agree to the Facebook user agreement you give Facebook permission to have full control of all information and content you provide to the site. By allowing Facebook to have access to your face you would be inviting them even further into your life. They will track and document minute changes to your face, this information will all be collected and analysed. You will be providing information you are not even aware of yourself. For example, the algorithms may be able to detect if you are on the verge of becoming ill or how much your tan has changed and therefore how long you spent in the sun.

Facial recognition is poised to be an extremely intrusive invasion of our privacy and we should be wary of its applications. However, it also has the potential to have great benefits in lifting some of the secrecy around online communication and verification. It is inevitable that facial recognition will become a ubiquitous security feature in the same way fingerprint ID has in recent years. We have to just hope that legislation will catch up with the times and responsibly control how the information of our identities is used.

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