YouTube's New Face-Blurring Tool: An Important Step for User Privacy and Safety

Last week YouTube announced the release of a new tool that will allow users to obscure people’s faces in the videos they have uploaded to the video-sharing platform.  By simply pushing a button in your settings to upload and post videos, you can now opt to protect the anonymity of individuals or crowds by blurring their faces from outside recognition.
YouTube has blogged about the new feature and how use it for those interested in the how to use the tool.
The use of technology in the form of cell phones, video, social media and more have been such important tools for growing human rights work.  However, these advances come with associated safety costs. When individuals choose to post videos that expose and document protests, human rights abuses or interviews with advocates, they are often putting themselves at risk.  We have seen governments and non-state actors targeting human rights advocates who appear in videos that may challenge the powerful in a given society.  Monitoring video and other forms of technology has provided governments and others with data on protesters or human rights advocates giving them the capacity to arrest or target human rights defenders.  As a result, YouTube’s new tool has enormous potential to protect human rights defenders and citizen activists, while still allowing them to take advantage of the valuable opportunity to share important footage across the world.   


Through its Cameras Everywhere Report’s recommendations and its advocacy work, WITNESS has used its role as a leading human rights video advocacy to urge tech companies, including YouTube, to provide better policies and technologies to ensure privacy for those using their platforms.  The report highlighted the fact that no video-sharing platforms provided anonymity features to users.  Now after hard work by groups like WITNESS to achieve this shift and the leadership of groups like YouTube, this reality is beginning to change. This advocacy strategy presents an interesting approach to defending human rights defenders because the role of tech companies in impacting individuals’ rights to information and privacy continues to grow.  We believe these victories and partnerships are extremely important to the future of human rights activism and the safety of those advocating for human rights accountability. 

Some related articles sent to us by WITNESS are found in The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Mashable, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Global Voices Advocacy and The New York Times. And, here is WITNESS's blog poston the subject if you are interested in this tool and WITNESS’s complimentary work.