YouTube unveiled yesterday a way for users to automatically blur human faces in videos they upload, a feature that would help protect the identities of political dissidents, parent company Google Inc said.
Once known more as a repository for fuzzy, home-made cat videos, YouTube has become a growing destination for slick, highly produced entertainment and serious news content.
Earlier this week, a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism said amateur “citizen journalism” footage from events such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan were some of the most-watched clips on YouTube.
In recent months YouTube has hosted dozens of videos from the rebellion in Syria, often uploaded by rebels seeking to publicize their struggle. But the videos have also revealed the identity of rebel fighters.
“Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube,” YouTube said in a blog post Wednesday.
The feature also allows for the original copy of the uploaded video to be deleted. Videos may also be kept private.
“YouTube is proud to be a destination where people worldwide come to share their stories, including activists,” YouTube said.
As a new feature they warn of it potentially missing some faces depending on the lighting, angle, video quality and obstructions.
“Before you publish, you will see a preview of what your video will look like with faces blurred. When you save the changes to your video, a new copy is created with the blurred faces. You will then be given the option to delete the original video,” the blog posted by Amanda Conway, policy associate at YouTube reads.
She uses an image of a demonstrator in Egypt as an example of a potential use for the feature.
According to YouTube, 60 hours of video are uploaded to their site every minute collecting more than 3 billion views a day.
The international human rights organization WITNESS reports that “no video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blue faces or protect identity.”