YouTube’s New Face-Blur Feature Allows You to be Anonymous

If you’ve ever committed an embarrassing act on YouTube or took part in a political demonstration that may result in your arrest, chances are you’d rather not have people see your face.

In many cases, if you wanted to blur a face, you either used video-making tools like Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, or you uploaded the unedited video on YouTube at your own risk.

Now, YouTube is the first video sharing site offering face-blurring. They have launched a feature where you can blur faces, whether it’s yourself or someone else, by simply pointing and clicking. The best part? It’s absolutely free!

A spokesperson for YouTube described to NMR how the new tool works:

“We use an algorithm that scans a video and detects facial features like eyes. From there it blurs the detected faces by adding things like noise and pixelation to the detected features. Additionally, we dedicated a lot of time and resources to developing this face blurring feature. It is a big achievement to be able to offer this technology for free at such a large scale and our very talented engineers are to thank for that.”

This new tool will ensure some peace of mind for those who have some expectation of privacy. Anonymity has been something that activists and others sought as speaking up against critical issues or engaging in high-risk demonstrations.

The YouTube spokesperson said, “Activists and human rights organizations that use YouTube have asked for more tools to promote visual anonymity, like in Witness’ Camera’s Everywhere report. Simultaneously this is something our team first was really inspired to do following the 2011 Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. We are proud to be a place where people come to tell important stories and we hope face blurring will allow more people to speak up who otherwise may not.”

Instances where anonymity would benefit include the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011-12, the ongoing Syrian Civil War and the Occupy demonstrations. In many of these activist movements, people have been at risk of arrest and imprisonment for various reasons, including unlawful assembly and criticizing the government.

This new face blurring mechanism could empower more people to release ground level-view videos, which can oftentimes be the most visual, moving aspects of citizen journalism. Although YouTube’s new face blurring tool will embolden activists in countries where free speech is under attack or ensure video-sharing families that their youngsters have privacy rights, it does not guarantee safety one bit, as authorities could still prosecute and arrest people involved in a certain video through other means.