Facebook Avatars Are Cute. Here’s Why Facebook Wants You to Make Yours.

Facebook is now inviting its billions of users to create cute cartoony avatars of themselves. They should be paying every sucker who takes them up on this offer. A lot.

We have this impression that Facebook and Google have face recognition AI that can track us everywhere. It’s basically true. But AI is way harder than it sounds. Guess what Facebook needs to make it really reliable…

They need humans to look at the pictures and describe them to the algorithm. In words, telling the system what it’s looking at. Words that can be used to tag the images so the algorithm knows what images are similar, and what they represent.

Facebook’s avatars are made from abstracted representations of various facial and body features. Each of those abstractions is a tag. Your actual image, no matter how sharp, is still a hugely complex pattern — a challenge for a machine learning algorithm to digest and interpret. Patterns are much more intelligible if they’re tagged.

So what are you doing when you give Facebook your avatar?

(1) Making it easier for their AI to recognize you and stereotype you alongside similarly tagged people, linking what it gathers from your image with everything else Facebook knows about you (A LOT).

(2) Populating Facebook’s unfathomably huge database of physical and psychographic data on pretty nearly everybody in the developed world. Create a Facebook avatar and now the company not only has a much better ability to recognize your face, but knows a lot about how you see and feel about yourself. It’s psychographic data they didn’t have to rely on their machine learning models to fabricate — you simply handed it to them. This is the database Facebook rents out in scientifically sliced and hashed segments to advertisers so they can sell you stuff. And ideas. And lies.

Even if that doesn’t set off screaming klaxons in all the paranoia organs in your brain…aren’t you generous to do all this work for Facebook’s data scientists? For free?

I don’t recommend this.

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