Stealing a book judged by its (political) cover

by Brian Keaney

It was generally accepted among my classmates in college that Republican women were better looking than  their sisters in the Democratic Party.  Even as a Democrat myself I had to agree.

Now it appears you can tell quite a bit about someone just by looking at them.  No, I am not talking about whether Michael Jordan wears boxers or briefs.  It actually turns out you can tell which political party someone belongs to just by looking at them.   (Hat tip Freakonomics)

Republicans were perceived as more powerful than Democrats. Moreover, as individual targets were perceived to be more powerful, they were more likely to be perceived as Republicans by others. Similarly, as individual targets were perceived to be warmer, they were more likely to be perceived as Democrats.

I can only wonder how someone like Michael Scott would fare.  As an uber-Machiavellian he wants people to be afraid of how much they love him.

Contrast that with this item that popped up in my Recommended Items feed on Google Reader.  There is now a smart phone application that allows you to take a photo of someone and it will search social networking sites for their profiles.

At first I thought this was a pretty cool feature.  We’ve all been at a party and across the room you see someone you are sure you’ve met, but you just can’t remember their name.  If you can surreptitiously snap a photo of them then the problem is solved.  It might also work if you see someone across the room you would like to know, and want a couple conversation ideas before you saunter over and buy them a drink.

I then began to think of the privacy concerns, however.  Say you are at a bar, and someone grabs a photo of you without your knowledge.  A Facebook search will give them your name and likely hometown, and a quick Google search will give them your address.  Guess what, the bad guys now know where you live, and, more importantly, that no one is home.

This is the same problem that has recently been discussed by the fauz-social networking site, Please Rob Me.  This service alerts would-be robbers when you’ve left home and checked in somewhere on Foursquare.  A running feed on the homepage gives criminals an up to the minute list of people with empty homes just ripe for the robbing.

Both Recognizr, the facial recognition software, and Foursquare (and, by extension, Please Rob Me) are opt-in services.  For now, unless you sign up for the service, criminals won’t be able to grab your photo in a crowded bar and find out where you live.  I bet it won’t be long until someone creates a similar program that can do the same thing with or without your consent.  Some enterprising criminal may develop his own app, complete with Mapquest directions from the bar to your home.

If you don’t think that is possible, just think.  A few minutes ago you didn’t think you could pick out a Republican by site.

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