Jonathon Hirshon, who is a public relation officer by profession, managed to stay completely anonymous on the internet for 25 years. Even though it is a part of his job to build relations with public and his clients, but he is strictly against posting his pictures on the internet. In the world of internet, where every second platform is introducing facial recognition technology, it is really a challenge to keep yourself hidden for so long.
People photograph the world around them all the time. So there are chances that you are the background of someone else’s picture taken in a public area. Even in this matter, Hirshon was alert. He is so far successful in his efforts since google search was unable to show a single picture of his face.
Hirshon is not a hermit and is very active on social media as well. He has more than 3000 friends on Facebook and keeps updating his profile and status from dinner plans to the state of his health. He told BBC, “I choose to share virtually everything about myself on social media, but my face is the essence of me individually, and this is about refusing to give up the last piece of identifiable information that I can control.”
“When the [web] started, I decided to play a game with myself: How long could I keep my picture off the Internet. It’s turned into a 20-year trek….There have only been two instances where pictures were taken of me [and posted] without my permission, and they both took them down”
Hirshon’s anonymity has become an anomaly in the data-driven world. Facebook started its facial recognition tech back in 2010. It identified and tagged users whenever a photo of them was uploaded by any other user. This helps users manage when and where their picture was added online. Credit card companies are considering to make use of selfies and make their customers pay for things while they shop. On the other hand, some schools are using the tech to check the attendance. Furthermore, Law enforcement agencies are also using the tech to track down the offenders.
The latest Apple X uses facial recognition to identify the owner and unlock the phone. Harishon told BBC, “I trust Apple with my data. Many of the points of facial recognition are kept locally on the phone. Apple doesn’t get that information.”
Harishon is a regular speaker at many conferences around the world. This proves to be the biggest challenge for him to keep his quest going. Before he starts speaking, the first thing he does is to ask the organizers of the event to make sure that no one photographs him. He regularly checks the internet to see if there are any pictures of him that might have leaked. In past 25 years, he only found 2 of them. They were taken in events at Serbia and Croatia and were posted on Twitter.
“I raced to find bilingual friends in both instances to send an urgent tweet respectfully asking on my behalf to take the picture down. Both were happy to do so and apologized profusely for the error. Nothing was done out of malice, just language issues.” he told BCC.
Harishon is realistic about maintaining his anonymity and also knows that it might end soon. Based on the 1960s film Spartacus, he has also created a hack that might protect his identity. He adopted the modern era concept and asks his friends to tag him in random pictures of people and animals.
He wrote in a private post on Facebook, “If you’re so inclined, take a moment and tag me in some random picture or image. A leaf on the wind, a howler monkey, geometry equations, George Clooney, a large steaming pile of excrement—select an image that you think best suits me or [is] based solely on your whim.”
The pictures that are under his name’s tag can confuse Facebook and Google’s algorithm and can also bury any real photos of him that might turn up eventually. He told the Fast Company about his reason to maintain his anonymity saying, “You’ve probably noticed that I have a fairly decent grasp of facial recognition technology. I have worked for a number of companies in the (information and security) space. You can leave it at that, and let people draw their own conclusions.”
“When people ask me why I do it, I give them four options. One: I am shy. Two: I used to work as a spy. Three: I am on the witness protection programme. Four: all of the above. I refuse to confirm or deny which one is the truth”
While it has always been difficult to hide from daily life social media’s paparazzi, Let’s see how long he will be able to keep himself hidden on the network.