YouTube Face-Blurring Tool Looks to Protect Some Privacy

New YouTube face-blurring technology will allow sensitive video footage to be posted online without disclosing the personal information of children, human rights activists and others.

A new tool on YouTube will allow users to "blur" the faces of subjects before uploading them to the Website, all in the name of protecting people's identities, whether it's a child playing sports or an activist expressing an opinion at a protest rally.

The anonymity capability was announced by Google's YouTube unit in a blog post July 18 by Amanda Conway, a YouTube policy associate.

"As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them," wrote Conway, calling the new tool "a first step toward providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube."

The move makes YouTube one of the first video-sharing sites to include such tools, Conway explained.

"Visual anonymity in video allows people to share personal footage more widely and to speak out when they otherwise may not," Conway wrote.

That's particularly important each day in citizen actions, human rights campaigns and protests around the world, Conway added. "Because human rights footage, in particular, opens up new risks to the people posting videos and to those filmed, it€™s important to keep in mind other ways to protect yourself and the people in your videos."

YouTube€™s face-blurring feature means that users can blur the faces of people in videos before posting them by clicking a button on the screen.

"Once you€™ve chosen the video that you€™d like to edit within our Video Enhancements tool, go to Additional Features and click the 'Apply' button below Blur All Faces," wrote Conway. A preview will then appear showing the images with the faces blurred. A copy of the video with the blurred video is created, and then an option will appear to allow the user to delete the original unedited video.

There are, however, limits to what the blurring tools can do, according to YouTube.

"This is emerging technology, which means it sometimes has difficulty detecting faces depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality," wrote Conway. "It€™s possible that certain faces or frames will not be blurred. If you are not satisfied with the accuracy of the blurring as you see it in the preview, you may wish to keep your video private," which limits the playback of the video to only the users you allow.

Jeffrey Child, a privacy expert and associate professor at Kent State University's School of Communication Studies, called the new YouTube face-blurring tool "a great advance and a great improvement" for privacy rights.

"When people think about information about themselves, they tend to think they have a sense of control over it," said Child. "They want things to be private as much as they can."

But when someone else posts videos or other content about others online, that sense of personal control is lost. The YouTube face-blurring technology could restore some of that confidence, he said.

"I think these tools enable people to be more sensitive about what they may be posting about other people who may not want to be sharing such information with others," said Child. "Some people may not want video posted that may associate them with something."

But even by creating the tool, it will still be up to the individuals who post the videos to decide if they will use face blurring, said Child.

Even with this new YouTube tool, though, plenty of video surveillance is being done all over the nation and world by cities, governments and businesses that legally use video cameras in public areas, said Child. "On the other side, think about all the video cameras that run in our communities that are controlled by others that we don€™t necessarily know," without the abilities to protect our identities.

Google uses similar face-blurring technology in its Google Maps Street Maps View, which also blurs images of vehicle license plates. Google Maps' Street View provides 360-degree horizontal and 290-degree vertical street-level views of city streets.