In a world were practically everyone has a device that can record video, anonymity in public is becoming a trickier and trickier thing to pull off. YouTube’s new built-in facial blurring feature might not necessarily help you control where your face does and does not appear, but it will help people who have your privacy in mind. With the new feature, all uploaders will have the ability to automatically blur all the faces that appear in a video, a feature that could prove especially helpful for anyone who wants to document an event, but not necessarily what people were involved.
Upon selecting the “Blur All Faces” option, the uploader will be presented with a preview of the video with blurring enabled, at which point they can apply the filter while preserving the original video, apply the filter and delete the original video, or change their mind and back out all together.
The feature makes use of automatic face-recognition, so it’s not going to be perfect every time. Presumably, it errs on the side of over-blurring and is in more danger of blurring non-faces than missing some mugs, but it’s easy to see how either could still happen. As such, the preview tool is an important part of the process, but one that could prove to be a pain if you’re dealing with a long video that has a lot of perspective changes.
While the feature is remarkable in its ease — you just have to select an option — it’s obviously a little less than precise. You have to blur all the faces or none of them, so it’s not like you could post a video of, say, police misconduct where the victims are blurred and the offending officers are not. Although there are situations where that kind of functionality might be helpful, the all-or-nothing nature of the feature is pretty clearly a technical constraint.
YouTube openly states that the feature is intended to aid those posting video of human rights footage in particular, stating that posting such footage online “opens up new risks to the people posting videos and to those filmed [and] it’s important to keep in mind other ways to protect yourself and the people in your videos.” In its announcement, YouTube cites the international human rights organization WITNESS as reporting that “No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity,” and states that it is “excited to be among the first.”