Like so many things on social media the 'How Are You Aging' Challenge seems like innocent fun, but digging a little deeper exposes a potentially frightening reality.

The "How Are You Aging" Challenge, also known as the "10 Year Challenge" asks you to post a now-and-then photo showing either your first Facebook profile photo compared to a photo of you today. Or a photo from 10 years ago compared to today. What could be the harm in a quick look back a decade into your past?

Futurist Kate O'Neill wrote a fascinating piece for Wired that has, deservedly, spread far online.  If you've not seen the theory, here it goes: What if this is a grand data mining experiment that is a real-time training for an artificial intelligence facial recognition algorithm. To what end? The software and that spooky big data enterprise behind it could be looking at patterns of age progression and recognition of people by their age.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics, and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g. how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you'd want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people's pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years....

It would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully-labeled set of then-and-now photos....

Through the Facebook meme, most people have been helpfully adding that context back in (e.g. “me in 2008, and me in 2018”), as well as further info, in many cases, about where and how the pic was taken (e.g. “2008 at University of Whatever, taken by Joe; 2018 visiting New City for this year’s such-and-such event”).

In other words, thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

So whether it's the How Are You Aging Challenge, or allowing Netflix to collect data on your viewing habits and granularity down to choices you make watching the choose-your-own-adventure film Bandersnatch, what exactly are you allowing Big Data to know about you, and how are you helping it along?

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