Technology 3 min read

Is Facebook's 10 Year Challenge a Ploy to Pull Your Data?

The viral 10 Year Challenge could be more than just a throwback to bad hair and fashion choices. | Image By TY Lim |

The viral 10 Year Challenge could be more than just a throwback to bad hair and fashion choices. | Image By TY Lim |

Recently, a social media trend called the “10 Year Challenge” went viral on Facebook, later spreading to Twitter and Instagram.

Although an interesting insight into how much the world can change in a decade, some are questioning the flipside of this seemingly innocent meme.

Did Facebook come up with the 10 Year Challenge for the pure fun of it, or is there a hidden reason behind it?

What is Facebook’s 10 Year Challenge?

The 10 Year Challenge requires users to upload a photo taken in 2009 and then publish it alongside a recent one taken in 2019.

The idea is that you and your Facebook acquaintances get the opportunity to have fun and maybe get a bit nostalgic over the 10-year evolution of your face.

The 10 Year Challenge was a big hit on Facebook and other social media networks. Many users joined in the fun and posted their then-and-now pictures, with sometimes subtle changes or dramatic transformations.

For some celebrities, their shots show like they haven’t aged a day, but it was perhaps singer Mariah Carey’s two identical pictures that won the round, saying that time is not something she acknowledges.

Some used the #10YearChallenge to draw attention to serious global issues like climate change.

Read More: The Earth is now Entering “The Plastic Age”

Facebook has an AI ax to Grind

At first glance, this fun challenge seems quite harmless. However, like most things involving tech companies and the web these days, there’s plenty of room for skepticism.

Some critics think Facebook has some ulterior motives for launching the challenge.

Some believe the 10-year-challenge is a data-mining ploy to make users unknowingly feed its facial recognition AI.

Now, Facebook has a large trove of then-and-now photos that are timestamped, prelabeled, and readily-available for Facebook to train its facial recognition algorithm.

It all started with a tweet from Wired writer Kate O’Neill. Kate later went on to write an article about it and received a statement from Facebook rebutting the claim as it supposedly didn’t start the challenge.

“This is a user-generated meme that went viral on its own. Facebook did not start this trend, and the meme uses photos that already exist on Facebook. Facebook gains nothing from this meme (besides reminding us of the questionable fashion trends of 2009). As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time.”

As O’Neill notes, to train a facial recognition AI “Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years. Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. “

The challenge also reminds us of how much Facebook itself has changed over the last decade, like us. It was in 2009 that Facebook introduced the “Like” button.

Do you think this is a ploy by Facebook to gain user data? 

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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