YouTube Launches Face-Blurring Feature to Protect Protesters

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During the Arab Spring, a lot of the footage coming out of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya wasn’t taken by the major news networks but rather ordinary citizens armed with cellphone cameras. The footage spread on sites like YouTube and Facebook, creating global support for the burgeoning movements.

The problem, of course, is that we’re not the only ones who can see the footage. Repressive governments can see it too, making video a bit of a double-edged sword. To that end, YouTube is launching a new face-blurring tool that will instantly blur out the faces of everyone in a video.

Basically, all a savvy protester has to do is enter YouTube’s video enhancement tool and click “Blur Faces.” They then get a preview of the new blurred-out video, which they can save as a new copy. The original video can then be deleted, and the updated video can be shared without fearing for the safety of the protesters featured in it.

YouTube says there are still a few kinks in the system, mainly that “it sometimes has difficulty detecting faces depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality.” Still, the fact that YouTube, by far the world’s biggest video-sharing site, is implementing this technology before anyone else is good news for democracy activists.

Recently, Google, which owns YouTube, has been especially active in the political sphere. This month it announced its “Legalize Love” campaign, which aims to work with grassroots organizations in countries with laws that forbid homosexuality, such as Singapore. The site already has a Human Rights channel and features political content on CitizenTube as well.

YouTube is localized in 43 countries and available in 60 languages; its face-blurring feature is being released worldwide today.

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