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Heeding input from human rights activists and this 2011 Cameras Everywhere report, YouTube has added a feature which aims to protect the privacy of individuals involved in controversial video footage. The new feature, "Blur All Faces", now appears in YouTube's video editor and allows users to automagically (and optionally) obscure faces during video submission.
Citing sensitive protest footage and children's basketball games as examples, YouTube seems pleased to offer the new tool as it adds a layer of anonymity to what has traditionally been a very public and unforgiving medium.
The tool is extremely simple to use. Once a user has uploaded their video and edited it to their liking, they can now look under Additional Features, find the Blur All Faces option and click the Apply button below it. Activating the feature will automatically detect and smudge out any faces it finds. Users can see the effect while previewing the video before submission. One thing though: there does not appear to be a way to blur individual faces – it's all or nothing.
While the feature should prove a boon for sensitive and embarrassing amateur footage, it would seem to be a double-edged sword. Understandably, in many instances, hiding the faces of protesters may be of critical importance. However, concealing those faces and expressions may also dampen the chilling empathy and irrepressible outrage such videos evoke – like the murder of Neda during Iranian protests -- a phenomenon which can help catapult unfortunate events to public prominence. It's also worth noting that obscuring the faces of attackers and brutal oppressors could make it that much more difficult to hold people and organizations accountable for their actions.
YouTube admits the feature isn't perfect, however. The company refers to the tool as an "emerging technology" and says that it may have trouble detecting faces depending on a number of variables, including lighting, obstructions, angle and source quality. The company advises users to preview first and if they aren't happy with the results, consider keeping the video private.