Big Data vs Your Data

Big Data Image

(and its impact on your digital photos)

Have you ever wondered what all the fuss is about big data? Have you considered how big data impacts YOUR data? We are going to address the issues the big data trend creates, specifically as it relates to your digital photo library. Note for you fans of the TV series, Person of Interest, we will not confirm whether the U.S. Government or some other organization really has “the machine” that is feared and omnipresent in every episode.

Let’s start by seeing if we can quantify what “big data” encompasses. How big IS “big data?” In 2013, estimates from various sources reached four zettabytes of data generated worldwide.1 What is a zettabyte? Suffice to say, it means a LOT of bytes – or units of information – where one byte equals one character of text. To give you some context, imagine that every person in the United States took a digital photo every second of every day for over a month. All of those photos put together would equal about one zettabyte.

These zettabytes are comprised of more than 500 million photos are uploaded and shared every day, along with more than 200 hours of video every minute. Wrap your head around that! And then, consider that the volume of information that people create themselves— from voice calls, emails and texts to uploaded pictures, video, and music—pales in comparison to the amount of digital information created about them each day.

These trends will continue. We are only in the very nascent stage of the so-called “Internet of Things,” when our appliances, our vehicles and a growing set of “wearable” devices will be able to communicate with one other. Technological advances have driven down the cost of creating, capturing, managing, and storing information to one-sixth of what it was in 2005.

The “Internet of Things”

The “Internet of Things” is a term used to describe the ability of devices to communicate with one other using embedded sensors that are linked through wired and wireless networks. These devices could include your thermostat, your car, or a pill you swallow so the doctor can monitor the health of your digestive tract. These connected devices use the Internet to transmit, compile, and analyze data.2

There are many definitions of “big data” which may differ depending on whether you are a computer scientist, a financial analyst, or an entrepreneur pitching an idea to a venture capitalist. Most definitions reflect the growing technological ability to capture, aggregate, and process an ever-greater volume, velocity, and variety of data. In other words, “data is now available faster, has greater coverage and scope, and includes new types of observations and measurements that previously were not available.”3 More precisely, big datasets are “large, diverse, complex, longitudinal, and/or distributed datasets generated from instruments, sensors, Internet transactions, email, video, click streams, and/or all other digital sources available today and in the future.”4

What really matters about big data is what it does. Aside from how we define big data as a technological phenomenon, the wide variety of potential uses for big data analytics raises crucial questions about whether our legal, ethical, and social norms are sufficient to protect privacy and other values in a big data world. Unprecedented computational power and sophistication make possible unexpected discoveries, innovations, and advancements in our quality of life. But these capabilities, most of which are not visible or available to the average consumer, also create an asymmetry of power between those who hold the data and those who intentionally or inadvertently supply it.

Part of the challenge, too, lies in understanding the many different contexts in which big data comes into play. Big data may be viewed as property, as a public resource, or as an expression of individual identity.5

Big data applications may be the driver of America’s economic future or a threat to cherished liberties. Big data may be all of these things. Used well, big data analysis can boost economic productivity, drive improved consumer and government services, thwart terrorists, and save lives.6

For example, a genetic researcher at the Broad Institute found that having a large number of genetic datasets makes the critical difference in identifying the meaningful genetic variant for a disease. In this research, a genetic variant related to schizophrenia was not detectable when analyzed in 3,500 cases, and was only weakly identifiable using 10,000 cases, but was suddenly statistically significant with 35,000 cases. As the researcher observed, “There is an inflection point at which everything changes.”7

Privacy laws can restrict access to data necessary for healthcare advances such as this. What is the value of a life (or many lives) versus the individual right to privacy of their data? This will always be a point of contention in determining public policy.

Of course every human should have a common concern for personal privacy. Especially when we are regularly reading about hackers accessing private credit card info from supposedly “secure” computers at large retail companies. Or with the NSA eavesdropping on virtually every type of communication that travels across a wire. The following excerpt is from an article in a New York Times article8 recently and mentioned on CNN Headline News:

The N.S.A. achieved a technical breakthrough in 2010 when analysts first matched images collected separately in two databases — one in a huge N.S.A. database code-named Pinwale, and another in the government’s main terrorist watch list database, known as Tide — according to N.S.A. documents. That ability to cross-reference images has led to an explosion of analytical uses inside the agency. The agency has created teams of “identity intelligence” analysts who work to combine the facial images with other records about individuals to develop comprehensive portraits of intelligence targets.

But I digress from our initial goal, and that was to evaluate the risks presented by big data from a personal perspective relative to our digital photos. When we take a digital photo with most current devices – especially mobile phones where most digital photos originate today – the data collected and stored with the photo includes among other items:

  • Camera type and settings
  • Date/time
  • GPS (location)

If the photos are tagged with people then the image metadata also may contain face coordinates and a name. A caption may also be added to the photo. If the photos never left your camera storage card or your personal computer then you would have no exposure and no privacy risk. The only risk you would have would be losing the data if it wasn’t backed up on another storage device.

The reality is that we are social creatures, and social creatures love to share things and digital photos are one of the most popular things we share amongst our species.

In the new digital world, information can be captured, copied, shared, and transferred at high fidelity and retained indefinitely. Volumes of data that were once impossible to store for any length of time, are now saved cheaply and effectively, forever. Furthermore, digital data often concerns multiple people, making personal control impractical. For example, who owns a photo—the photographer, the people represented in the image, the person who first posted it, or the site to which it was posted? The spread of these new technologies are fundamentally changing the relationship between a person and the data about him or her.

As soon as you upload your photos to Apple’s cloud, Google’s cloud, Facebook’s cloud (or plug in the name of your favorite cloud) service, all bets are off for the privacy of your information. In the case of Facebook, ownership of the photo transfers to Facebook. Similarly, as soon as you “privately” send a digital photo to a friend, all bets are off if they share that photo with others.

Let’s review some of the things “bad people” could do with your photos.

  1. Identity theft. With your name and a good photo they could create fake id to obtain a credit card or mortgage using your identity – or one of your family members.
  2. Finding out that you are on vacation. If you are posting pics from your vacation then someone could determine that you are away from home.
  3. Post fake items using your image. There have been numerous reports of people using someone else’s appearance to support their dating profile or other social network presence. This is more of a nuisance but could have some serious implications in certain situations where foul play resulted during a blind date.
  4. Capture other personal information based on your photos. Examples include: pictures of your car and your plates are visible; pictures of your house and your street number is visible; pictures of your kids with tags allowing “them” to know who is in your family. Likewise, valuable property could be targeted for theft if made highly visible.

Some of these items are pretty scary. So what can you do? Here are some basic “best practices” you can follow to manage and mitigate your risks.

  1. When posting pictures to Facebook and Google+ be wary of the content of those pics (and Instagram and… any service where the pics may end up in the general public via the InterWeb).
  2. Generally don’t tag the photos with more than first names if you are posting to Facebook or Google+.
  3. Store your photos on private cloud storage sites where;
    • You know the company is going to be around for a long time – an established firm with a good reputation.
    • You have a contractual relationship with them – in other words, not a free site where they could shut down at any time.
  4. Be careful posting vacation photos. Share them with your close friends, but not the world!
  5. Periodically – at least twice a year – copy the photos off your phone memory card. And then clean the card to avoid identity theft issues identified earlier in this article. A phone is one of the easiest things to lose, and if you lose thousands of songs it is no big deal because they can be replaced. But if you have thousands of pictures and they only exist on your phone then you wouldn’t be able to replace them and THAT could be a very big deal.
  6. Use photo organization tools that sync the photos on your phone, with the photos in your private cloud, or with a photo library on your personal computer (for total private control). This gives you a backup of the images that represent the tangible record of your memories. Those moments of your life can be enjoyed by you and others for years to come.

There is no doubt that the world of big data will keep growing. It’s my hope that these tips will help you manage your piece of it.

  1. Mary Meeker and Liang Yu, Internet Trends, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, 2013
  2. Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values, US Government Report
  3. Liran Einav and Jonathan Levin, “The Data Revolution and Economic Analysis”, Working Paper, No. 19035, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013
  4. National Science Foundation, Solicitation 12-499: Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science & Engineering (BIGDATA), 2012
  5. Harvard Professor of Science & Technology Studies Sheila Jasanoff argues that framing the policy implications of big data is difficult precisely because it manifests in multiple contexts that each call up different operative concerns, including big data as property (who owns it); big data as common pool resources (who manages it and on what principles); and big data as identity (it is us ourselves, and thus its management raises constitutional questions about rights).
  6. Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values, US Government Report
  7. Manolis Kellis, “Importance of Access to Large Populations,” Big Data Privacy Workshop: Advancing the State of the Art in Technology and Practice, Cambridge, MA, March 3, 2014
  8. New York Times – May 31, 2014
Posted in blog, Privacy

Your data is safe with us

Fotobounce provides a very high level of security

The Interweb has been abuzz with news of the latest security problem called “Heartbleed”. We wanted to provide an update to our users that their data was not affected by this SSL-related issue. Our servers employed a different version of OpenSSL than the version with the problem.

And, in addition, one of the big security features of Fotobounce is that no passwords are stored on our back-end servers.

However, as a precautionary measure we have updated all of our SSL certificates this week. You can rest assured that your data and valuable photos remain safe with Fotobounce!

Best regards,
Ray Ganong Co-CEO

Posted in Privacy

Organizing your scanned photos

Grandmother with Granddaughter

In the previous article we (hopefully!) convinced you to take your favorite photos out of those shoeboxes, binders and old albums and digitize them so that future generations can enjoy them. We covered multiple ways to capture those long forgotten photos including scanning with several devices, using your smartphone camera and sending the photos to a commercial scanning service. Let’s assume that you have now completed that task and have a digital folder full of photos.

In this article, we’ll explain how Fotobounce helps organize your photos using multiple indexes for ease of access.
We also suggest you develop a high-level strategy for organizing your photos based on the type of photos you have. Fotobounce offers the following criteria for categorizing your images:

  • Dates: This is the default method that categorizes based on the image date.
  • People: Fotobounce’s powerful face recognition feature identifies faces, which you are then able to tag, creating a great directory or index of all the people in your photos.
  • Collections: These are general categories of photos (“vacations,” for example) and can be hierarchical (one album contained within a bigger album).
  • Events: Similar to Collections but focused on recurring or one-time events.
  • Places: Similar to Collections but focused on specific locations that you frequent.
  • Keywords: Used for tagging general characteristics of photos such as “beach” or “fun stuff” or “winter.”

Click here for the full article with images.

Posted in Face Recognition, Organizing, Photos, Tagging

Scanning those old photos in family albums


Okay… we’ve convinced you that you should take your old photos out of those shoeboxes and photo albums and digitize them so that future generations can enjoy them. Not only will this help preserve them, it also presents a great opportunity to spend time with an older family member and document the life stories behind the photos.

There are multiple ways to capture these old photos. Here are a few:

1. Scan the photos using a desktop scanner. Most home printers now come with multiple modes to scan, copy and print. These devices are relatively inexpensive to buy if you don’t already have one. A feature that we would recommend looking for in a scanner is one whose software automatically splits multiple photos when placed on the scanning surface. It is a great time saver, though the downside is that you have to take the photos out of albums – sometimes easier said than done with older photo albums with sticky surfaces.

2. Use a hand scanner that is waved over the photo, the LG Mouse Scanner, for example. These usually offer scanning software similar to the desktop scanners that allow you to adjust some basic photo settings and crop images. The good thing is that you don’t have to take the photos out of the album to scan them. The downside is that the edges of the photos and album pages can catch the mouse scanner and it takes some skill and practice to consistently capture a good quality scan. If your requirements include capturing text in old documents, some reviews of the LG Scanner state that this is the best use of the device since it includes excellent OCR (optical character recognition) software for translating the scanned image to text.

Dedicated photo scanning devices such as the Kodak P811R offer a better way to capture photos if you are scanning a lot of them. Even so, it still requires that the photos be removed from albums. And if you have a lot of tape residue on the photos that can make feeding these machines difficult.

3. If you have a current Android or iPhone with a 5 megapixel or better camera, there is no need to purchase a scanner because you already have an excellent image capture device within your mobile phone! Believe it or not, there are some great apps for taking pictures of your old photos. These apps allow you to perform the basic editing tasks before saving or emailing the photos. A couple of examples of free apps available for both Apple and Android smartphones are Snapseed and Aviary. These also have the benefit of not requiring the source photos to be removed from the album. In testing these apps, we have found the results to be very impressive.

As you begin this process of preserving photos for future generations, it helps if you are ruthless when determining which photos “make the cut”. In general, images with people in your family or close friends are going to be the keepers. Here are some examples of photos that do NOT need to be digitized:

1. If the photo is in rough shape with little hope of capturing a half-decent scan, don’t bother. The only exception is if this is the only photo you can find of a relative or friend and you really want to keep that memory alive. There are also third-party services who can do a pretty good job of cleaning them up and making them look respectable. It may cost five to ten dollars per photo but if the memory is important then it will be worth the expense.

2. The photo is out of focus, is showing the back of heads only, nobody is smiling, or it is the twentieth shot of the mountains, etc. Just don’t waste the digital space and your time. Think about future generations and whether they would enjoy the photo.

Another consideration when scanning photos is date capture. Depending on the source of the old photos, you may or may not have dates available. The date may be printed on the back by the printer or lab that created the print, around the edge of the frame, or in handwritten notes below the photo in the album or on the back of the photo. If there is no date associated with a photo, one tip is to figure out the age of the person/people in the photo and work out the date by adding that to their known birth date(s).

Ok, with scanning completed it’s now time to tag those photos and group them into albums. That will be the topic for the next article.

Posted in Family, History, Photos

Face recognition makes prime time with 60 Minute segment


Face recognition has made the big-time news with the feature segment this past weekend on the CBS news program “60 Minutes”. [Click here to watch: ]

The slant on the segment was whether face recognition was an invasion of privacy for the average US citizen. This continues to be an ongoing debate but suffice it to say – “your face is more personally identifiable than your written signature”. The 60 Minute segment explored a study done at Carnegie Mellon University by researchers there who performed the following experiments:

  • In one experiment, Acquisti’s team identified individuals on a popular online dating site where members protect their privacy through pseudonyms.

  • In a second experiment, they identified students walking on campus — based on their profile photos on Facebook.

  • In a third, the team predicted personal interests and, in some cases, even the Social Security numbers of the students, beginning with only a photo of their faces.

For full details on the study go here:

The 60 Minute segment also highlighted that European governments were far more advanced in their protection of online personal data such as face signatures and that the US still has no legislation in this area. So big business is free to use the data as they see fit, and this may not always be in the best interests of the general population.

As we have pointed out in previous posts on this website, it is important to manage your personal face data as you would any other private personal data such as your credit card or social security number.

Posted in Face Recognition, Privacy

Cupids Against Cancer


Fotobounce is proud to support the annual Cupids Against Cancer fundraiser. This event raises funds that go to On the Tip of the Toes Foundation. This group takes teens that are fighting cancer on wilderness adventure tours to build confidence to win their personal battle. Fotobounce recently put together a collage of faces from attendees at events over the last ten years. Check it out here: click here for collage. For more info on the charity event: click here.

Posted in News

Face Recognition and Privacy

face recognition

The interweb is buzzing about Facebook turning off its auto-face-tag feature for European users as a result of pressure from various European privacy groups. This situation highlights one of the critical weaknesses of Facebook and a key strength of Fotobounce. The issue at hand is the privacy of your personal information and photos in particular. The objective of this post is to point out the concern and hopefully influence you to take action to protect your personal privacy

When any web service scans your photos, finds faces, and compares those faces with known people in your contact list, this action should require your explicit approval. It should be very clear that you own the data and that you are not expecting that it be used outside the context of sharing your photos with friends. It’s no secret that, because they do not follow these basic privacy practices, the use of your data is definitely a concern with Facebook and many other web-based services that use face recognition.

The data generated by the face detection process is essentially a “face signature” that is as personal and private as any other data identifying you – including your social security number and your written signature. This begs the question, “With what web services would you normally share your social security number?” Typically, you would only share that info with banks and government organizations whom you trust and know that they are applying appropriate measures to protect your very personal information from the “bad guys.” Although there have been countless examples, online users do not seem to appreciate that, while face recognition is cool technology, it can also be used in a myriad of ways for nefarious purposes.

For organizing photos, face recognition is a huge time-saver, making it infinitely easier to access your treasured photos. Fotobounce applies advanced and accurate face recognition technology to the task of organizing your photos and was designed from the outset with privacy of your information top of mind. When you share photos with trusted friends and family members (a.k.a. Bouncers) via our Peer-to-Peer network feature, the face recognition data is also shared with those people, saving them time in tagging their photos — But at no time is this information made available to the public.

Posted in Face Recognition, Privacy

Lost Photo Blues


This is the story of how the track called “The Lost Photo Blues” came to be.

Like photos, music is a great connector – that’s what was going through my mind one night a few years ago as I watched my friend Mike Branton captivate his audience, doing what he does best. What Mike does best is create and share music – specifically the blues.

My second thought was how, not being able to find photos, is like having the blues – you get frustrated, a bit discouraged. This is not typically what one thinks about when enjoying the blues, I’ll grant you. Maybe a few glasses of wine had my mind following unusual patterns of thought – I can’t really say.

This led to my third thought which was, “Why don’t we compose a blues song about lost photos?” (It must have been too much fresh air that evening that sparked this thought!) Still, it seemed like a good idea, even in the bright clarity of a new day. I mentioned it to my wife, April, and asked if she’d like to take a stab at writing some lyrics with me. (She can be quite eloquent with pen and paper.) Not at all sure of the purpose of this little adventure, she agreed so I called Mike and asked if he’d be game to put it all to music if we provided the lyrics. Like my wife, Mike gave me the distinct impression that, while he wasn’t sure why I would want to do this, he’d be happy to give it a shot.

The rest, as they say, is history. April wrote the lyrics. (I was allowed some collaborative input, albeit minimal, which was probably all for the best.) Mike provided the musical talent, allowing me to drop in and enjoy the in-studio creative process. (He also allowed minimal collaborative input, again, probably for the best.)

Why do a song for Fotobounce? Why not? Like I said, I think photos and music are two powerful mediums that can be used to bring people closer together. That’s why Fotobounce was created – to make it easy and fun to connect with those you care about. So have fun using Fotobounce so you don’t have to worry with lost photos. And I hope you enjoy listening to The Lost Photo Blues as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Here is the song on Youtube:

If you would like an MP3 version of the song please email me: ray [dot] ganong [at]

Ray Ganong
President, Fotobounce

Posted in History, Photos

Recent reviews and mentions


Fotobounce was reviewed earlier this month by PCWorld and PCAdvisor. Click here for the review. The review highlights one of our key strengths which is face recognition accuracy. Of course, face recognition technology will never be perfect because of the characteristics of everyday snap photos, but it certainly does speed up the task of tagging thousands of photos. And, having your photos tagged makes it very easy to access specific photos of people or groups when necessary. If you have a special event coming up you will really appreciate the benefit of having those special photos at your fingertips.

We also received a mention from Marc Saltzman in his blog on Click here for that posting. Marc has been a vocal supporter of Fotobounce since our inception and we really appreciate it.

Posted in Reviews

Facebook is not the greatest for Photos


Facebook is a great social networking tool and the number of users they have attracted proves this obvious fact, but not so great as a storage location to protect your photos. Here are the two key reasons why:

  1. Facebook reduces the resolution on your photos to save on their storage costs. Even though they’ve increased the resolution of photos they store, Facebook photos are still at less than full-resolution.

  2. Facebook strips the meta data (EXIF is the techie term) from your photos. This means the data about when the photo was taken, what camera it what taken with and other pertinent info is gone as soon as you upload the photo to Facebook.

This means that if you lost your photos, you would be able to restore a reduced resolution copy of the photo and it will be missing some key data denoting date taken and so forth. In addition, you would have to copy these photos back to your computer “one at a time.” Wouldn’t that be a fun way to spend an evening or a weekend?!

Let’s not forget that Facebook assumes no liability for keeping your photos intact. They will try their best to maintain them but you have no contractual relationship with Facebook. You are not paying them money to take the best care possible of your valuable photos. So why consider Facebook as a viable photo storage area?

On top of the above, navigating the Facebook photo and album structure is not the easiest thing on the planet to do. It wasn’t, and never will be designed, with photo organization in mind.

Then there’s the privacy aspect – or lack thereof – of using Facebook to store your photos. Let’s say you are diligent and you mark your photos visible only to friends. That still allows friends to download and re-upload the photo to their Facebook albums and then you never know what happens to the photos. Once this happens, your photos can be put to all kinds of uses by Facebook apps and other web crawlers.

So, I hope this helps shed some light on the topic and convinces you to evaluate and consider a dedicated private photo management solution like Fotobounce. Fotobounce plays nicely with Facebook and still allows you to share photos via Facebook, while keeping you in control of your photos. THAT is a great place to be.

Posted in Photos, Sharing