A Face in the Crowd: Say goodbye to anonymity

Even if your picture isn't on the Internet, computerized facial recognition makes it virtually impossible to keep your "faceprint" private

Lesley Stahl: Because of our faces.

Joseph Atick: Yes, because of our faces, exactly.

With security cameras ever present, some people are already thinking up countermeasures.

Joseph Atick: Artists, very clever artists have now begun to create new forms of anonymity by creating patterns that would interfere with face recognition algorithms. So they can go down the street and this system cannot recognize them.

Lesley Stahl: We'll all wear masks! The veil will come HERE.

Joseph Atick: The veil might come here.

Short of wearing a burka, we may all one day become Tom Cruise at the mall, because marketers who track us as we shop online and send us ads, want to do that as we shop in the real world. We found a company that's figured out how to do that.

David McMullen: A customer would just walk into an establishment like this just like normal.

David McMullen is the CEO of redpepper, a Nashville marketing firm developing an app called FaceDeals. As we walk into a bar, this camera identifies me using facial recognition.

David McMullen: And this will actually be the moment when-- I got a deal. How did you--

Lesley Stahl: I got-- I don't know. Something just came up on my phone here. Oh, my, look at that. "Welcome, Lesley. Get a free Diet Coke with a purchase of a Caesar salad." My, my.

My cellphone knew I liked Diet Coke, because in the three seconds it took to walk in, the camera at the door matched my faceprint to my Facebook profile, where redpepper mined my shopping history and Facebook "likes" to send me the perfect deal. They did that only after I "opted in" or explicitly gave them permission. But if you're queasy about trading your privacy for a Diet Coke, McMullen says we've already given up our privacy: cameras in stores, our phones with GPS locators and our credit cards all know where we are when we shop.

David McMullen: All these things are tracking us. What benefit do we get from it? What control do we have over it? Not much.

Lesley Stahl: So they know we're in the store anyway.

David McMullen: That's right.

Lesley Stahl: And they're not offering us anything.

David McMullen: That's correct.

Companies tracking us by our faces may seem a little like spying. Well, since so many of us have one of these - we may soon be able to spy on each other.

Alessandro Acquisti: The ability of remaining anonymous is shrinking. And the places where we can be anonymous are getting fewer and fewer.

Alessandro Acquisti is a professor at Carnegie Mellon who does research on how technology impacts privacy. He says that smart phones may make "facial searches" as common as Google searches and he did an experiment to show how easy it could be. He took photos of random students on his campus. He then ran the pictures through a facial recognition program he downloaded for free that sifted through Facebook profiles and other websites. And he was able not only to identify many of them instantly, he also got their personal data, including in some cases, their social security numbers.