San Francisco -- In a largely troubling atmosphere if you wish to post footage of a protest, but does not want to reveal the protesters faces, you can easily blur faces now, thanks to YouTube. The Google-owned video-sharing outfit YouTube is rolling out a new tool that will empower users to automatically blur the faces of select people within uploaded videos, the site announced today.“Whether you wish to share sensitive demonstration 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,” Amanda Conway, a policy associate for YouTube, wrote in a blog post.
YouTube stressed that the technology is “emerging” and might not be 100 percent accurate.
Apparently, this innovative blurring face technology comes just days after a Pew study was released indicating an upward trend among people getting their news from user-generated videos on the site. It also makes YouTube the first video-sharing website to offer such a capability, according to international human rights organization WITNESS' Cameras Everywhere report.
In fact, to tackle this severe identity crisis, YouTube has included a face blurring functionality to the site's built-in photo editor. When users apply the option, YouTube tries to detect and blur all faces automatically. The option appears under “Additional Features” in YouTube's Video Enhancements tool.
Accordingly, this innovative tool is expected to enhance the level of protection in videos that may require a degree of anonymity. For instance, someone uploading a video clip of protesters during civil unrest in the Middle East can now blur out the faces of people holding up signs in the crowd. The blurring tool could make it more difficult for oppressive governments to target opposition that they had otherwise harm or kill.
The tool is pretty cool, simple and automatically targets faces with a few clicks. You can preview the blurred faces within the video before uploading to make sure everything is perfect.
However, Conway informed that the face blurring feature is not that perfect as yet, and may have trouble detecting faces depending on camera angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality. Users may want to set their videos as private if they are not completely satisfied with the blurring, Conway said. (Another option would be to trim any sections where people could be identified.)
“It is possible that certain faces or frames will not be blurred,” YouTube said. “If you are not fully satisfied with the accuracy of the blurring as you see it in the preview, you may wish to keep your video private.”
In another post on Google's Public Policy Blog, YouTube Director of Global Communications and Policy Victoria Grand described a number of alternative ways that users can protect themselves. Users should consider the risks that uploaders and subjects may face, and be mindful of other information that can give away someone's identity, such as recognizable voices, spoken names, license plates, name tags and background scenery. Grand also noted that local laws may allow authorities to track the source of mobile uploads, and that in some countries, a SIM card purchase can lead to government tracking.
“Of course, anonymity is never a guarantee, and people who capture sensitive video footage should consider taking other precautions to keep themselves and their subjects safe,” Grand wrote.
Moving ahead, YouTube said it was proud to be a top news destination but acknowledged that “this level of exposure can be risky to the citizens shooting the footage and the people who appear in their videos,” prompting the face blurring.
“Over the past seven years, YouTube has evolved into a destination for citizen reporting,” the company said. “In addition to curating projects like the Human Rights Channel and CitizenTube, we hope that the new technologies we are rolling out will facilitate the sharing of even more stories on our platform.”
Google currently uses blurring technology to obscure faces and license plate numbers on its Street View mapping service.