Why You May Want to Be Cautious About the Viral ’10 Year Challenge’

10 Year Challenge Credit: Lori Loughlin / CBS
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Harmless meme or data collection scheme? You can be the judge, but there’s probably reason to be suspicious about the 10 Year Challenge.

If you’ve been on social media recently, you probably have noticed the latest viral craze — which hit Facebook, Instagram and other popular platforms over the past few weeks.

Basically, a user posts two images side-by-side: one from today and one from 10 years ago. At first glance, the meme seems like a fun way to #HumbleBrag, or alternatively, show off just how hard years have hit you.

But the more cynical (or perhaps well-informed) among us may see through the veneer of harmless social media fun.

Technology author Kate O’Neill, for example, points out that the fact that Facebook probably isn’t simply watching the trend idly.

In an Op-Ed for WIRED, O’Neill writes that Facebook users may be adding data relevant to otherwise context-less pictures — such as when and where a picture was taken.

She admits that Facebook could just teach its algorithms to detect aging just by scanning the old photos users already have on their accounts. But by participating in the 10 Year Challenge, users may be inadvertently making the process much easier for Facebook.

Other tech industry watchers and cybersecurity experts have made similar guesses that the 10 Year Challenge may just be a large-scale, machine-training campaign.

As far as other criticisms, Washington Post art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott paints a more abstract picture of the trend’s (and social meida’s) darker side.

Social media platforms may be warp our sense of time, and could even “distort forgetting, an essential tool of happiness.” Without social media, for example, we wouldn’t remember the lunch we had on a Tuesday four years ago.

As Kennicott writes, “Facebook doesn’t just want to own your images, it wants to own your temporality.”

But, of course, some people are skeptical about the possibility of a secret data collection endeavor.

And according to some, there may be a much simpler and much less insidious reason behind the meme: Facebook just wants people to log in, get nostalgic, and feel good about the platform. That may be a good move for the company as it reels from a series of data and privacy scandals.

“The rule of thumb is always that we live in the least cool, dumbest possible tech dystopia,” Twitter user Max Read wrote.

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