Online virality is sometimes a double-edged sword as the recent Guwahati molestation case has shown. While the video posted on YouTube fuelled national outrage and saw online activists taking screen-capture images of the molesters and post them on online forums – from Facebook walls to blogs – forcing the State to arrest the accused rather than indulge in token action, there have also been concerns about whether such videos should be posted in the first place, as they harm reputations and, in some cases, reveal the identities of victims.

This is a moral dilemma, and not only for journalists. Thanks to smartphones, practically every person on the road is a citizen journalist. Emerging technologies like Google Glass – spectacles that record everything one sees – are only going to make things more ubiquitous. The responsibility to wield power justly lies firmly in all our hands. Human rights organisation Witness, in its ‘Cameras Everywhere 2011 Report,’ notes: “So far, policy discussions around visual privacy have largely centered on public concerns about surveillance cameras and individual liberties. But with automatic face-detection and recognition software being incorporated into consumer cameras, applications and social media platforms, the risk of automated or inadvertent identification of activists and others – including victims, witnesses and survivors of human rights abuses – is growing.”

Reacting to these concerns, earlier this week YouTube announced a video enhancement that helps users blur faces on videos. This enhancement is available through its online editing suite. This is probably the easiest solution to date, but bear in mind that this solution blurs all faces in the video, and does not allow users to select specific faces to blur. Also, if users save their videos using the enhancement, the blurring becomes irreversible.

YouTube’s tool however, is a start towards more responsible video sharing. Advanced video software like Avid and FinalCut Pro allow selective blurring of videos. But these require some know-how.

***

If you want to catch up with some of Chennai’s entrepreneurs over the weekend, you can head to The Startup Centre at Alsa Mall. Ideas will be pitched at the weekend hackathon ‘In50Hours’. The Startup Centre has promoted as an ‘idea-to-prototype’ event. This is the fifth edition of the event in the city. Over the years, more than 200 persons have participated and pitched ideas, and nearly 100 prototypes have been demonstrated. The event claims credit for at least leading the path to 20 startups. For More details at: www.in50hrs.com.

A web video on how to blur out the faces of people using YouTube's new video enhancement will be available on http://thene.ws/digitone-blur

More In: Columns | Chennai