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Communications of the ACM


Designing an Ethical Tech Developer

group of people standing outside, with faces shielded and obscured

Credit: Trismegist San

Most students anticipate a difficult academic transition from high school to college, but for many, the social transition is just as jarring. To ease this stress, Harvard freshman Yuen Ler Chow developed the facial recognition software called The FaceTag,7 which links to a database of fellow Harvard students' contact information. After users scan a classmate's face using the app, they gain access to that person's phone number or social media accounts. The common problem of meeting someone once but barely getting their name was fixed, simplifying the exchange of information and streamlining the friend-making process.

This solution resulted in more than 100 users downloading the app in less than two months. However, after Yuen Ler Chow posted a viral video to the social media platform TikTok, the comments section agreed that The FaceTag was an unethical violation of privacy.10 The idea that a person need only scan someone's face before having access to their personal information was too much, even for a generation of avid social media users. They especially did not trust an 18-year-old to keep such sensitive information secure.


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