Couple Challenge: Privacy Ending Trap for Facial Surveillance or Random Social Trend?

Couple challenge is seemingly innocent on the face of it – an affectionate hashtag trend where you post a photograph of yourself with your romantic partner, as a token of your appreciation for the other person. However, things may not really be as straightforward as that. In these innocuous trends, lies a bigger story – each of these posts are registered as content that is voluntarily put on the public domain by you, the owner of the content. Once you put this out voluntarily, it becomes content that is available for everyone to access – something that in today’s world represents a million privacy and security concerns.

To begin with, any personal image of yours, made available willingly by you on any social medium, is content that any person or organisation can make use of, without needing express consent from you. The reason? A public post on a social platform is content that you have willingly stated as something that you don’t mind the world seeing. While privacy advocates have long been alarmed by this, for many mainstream users, this is exactly why they would post a photograph with their partner under the hashtag, ‘#CoupleChallenge’ – instant social gratification.

Hence, such challenges, such as the above-mentioned one and the likes of ’10-year challenge’ (where you post an image of yourself from a decade ago as well as a recent one), eat into the entire addiction traps that social media platforms have established, but may actually be severely detrimental to your privacy and online security. These images may be scraped by agencies and surveillance organisations to keep a tab on your activities, while technology companies may further use this content to bolster already strong facial recognition and surveillance algorithms. It is what ‘deep learning’ algorithms, which are the backbone of the likes of Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and others, grow from.

Prior to that, simply posting these images online may hand over content readily to cyber criminals. Such images may be collected by a scammer, who can then morph it into abusive content, or use it in the rising volume of deepfakes that are growing across social media – even in India. Such scammers may then execute scams and cyber attacks such as identity theft, blackmail and threat tactics, revenge pornography and other such actions – things that can affect individuals severely in terms of mental health.

It is based on this that Pune City Police issued an advisory on Thursday, September 24. The awareness post warned users against participating in such a “cute challenge”, and urged them to think privacy first. Over time, numerous cyber police bodies across India have issued similar warnings to encourage basic cyber hygiene tactics on the internet. However, as the recently launched Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma shows, the impact that Big Tech companies have had on the psyche of users is so deep rooted, that many of us are willing to overlook clear signs of breaches of our personal space, in exchange for social validation and a fickle, momentary sense of being appreciated.

Challenges such as the ‘Couple Challenge’ are hence best left avoided, and you as a user should attempt to post as little of your personal content online, as you can. Facial recognition algorithms feed off such content, learning more and more about your facial structure – so that one day, it can recognise your face in a crowded football stadium with 100,000 people within a few seconds. It is the essential tool of a surveillance state, one where you would not have any fundamental right of privacy. Be sure to stay away from it.

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