Facial Recognition Makes Changing Your Name Pointless
Whatever precautions I’ve felt necessary to protect my privacy, hiding my face from the world has never been one of them
Almost 20 years ago, I started a new life for myself. I was 18, in college, and newly enamored with a trend known as “indie porn” — and I jumped headfirst into exploring the scene, becoming a part of a vibrant online community that was challenging assumptions about what erotic media could be.
For all my enthusiasm, I was very aware that my interest in pornography — however feminist, thoughtful, and social justice-minded it might have been — wasn’t particularly on-brand in my other life as an Ivy League college student. But that didn’t feel like too much of a hurdle to overcome: All I had to do was just pick a different name, one that would separate my online self from the woman carving out a life in college.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve used different names to explore different parts of myself. In my indie porn days, I was Lux Nightmare; as a roller derby skater, Joey Hardcore was my name. And then, of course, I built a career as the writer, Lux Alptraum. All of these women have lived separate lives, bleeding together only when I wanted them to. And yet they’ve all shared the same face. Whatever precautions I’ve felt necessary to protect my privacy, hiding my face from the world has never been one of them.
But all these years after that initial rebranding, I’m less secure, less safe, and less in control of my identity than ever before. In mid-January, the New York Times published a profile of Clearview AI, a company whose facial recognition technology helps ID unknown people through their online images. The practice has the potential to, as journalist Kashmir Hill put it, “end privacy as we know it.” But it’s not just privacy I’m worried about losing, in the sense of wanting to keep certain things out of the public eye. I’m terrified that the ability to present myself to other people on my own terms, the ability to control how much information I’m sharing about myself when I put myself out in the world, has been utterly eradicated.
That freedom to self-define and redefine the self is directly at odds…