A recent Taylor Swift song says “she sees his face in every space,” but I don’t think she was talking about the emergence of facial recognition software. The ability to identify your smiling face is around the corner for Facebook, and already exists in Apple’s new iPhoto and Google’s Picasa photo software.
Start-up Face.com has announced their PhotoFinder for Facebook is now in public Alpha testing. Alpha testing lets (generally technical) people play with software before it really is 90 percent functional. That’s way before it’s ready for production release – when most of us see software.
Their web site calls the software “a powerful tool for finding pictures of you and your friends on Facebook. This application is the fastest, most powerful and most accurate facial recognition outside of TV crime dramas.”
Inside Facebook gives a good overview. “Here’s how it works: When you log into Photo Finder, the app uses its facial recognition technology to search for untagged pictures of you or your friends throughout Facebook by scanning all the public photos in your network. When it finds photos, it suggests tags based strictly on the faces identified. This could lead to less embarrassing pictures floating about without your knowledge. So far, it seems to work pretty well.”
“Face.com’s facial recognition software is able to scan through millions of photos in a relatively short amount of time,” according to Sarah Perez in ReadWriteWeb. “Although the results of the scan are not immediate upon adding the application, you’re able to view them even while the scan is in progress.”
There is an easy learning process that helps it identify facial structures from imperfect photos taken from different angles. Wait until it starts scanning the nearly 15 billion photos that reside inside of Facebook.
Remember how Facebook wanted to become one of the world’s largest marketing databases? This could yield some interesting information to sell. Please don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook. It effectively bridges gaps between people that couldn’t be crossed before. Besides, they aren’t the only one that wants to recognize your face. It just opens a whole new door to marketing.
CNET reports that a sneak peak of iPhoto09 features “faces” – a photo recognition feature with geotagging and social networking components. Writer Nicole Lee says that it’s pretty easy. “…you don’t have to tag every single photo you have with a name and a face; the idea is that iPhoto ’09 will be smart enough to do the facial recognition for you.” Other reviewers call it fun and useful, but not totally foolproof yet.
Location geotagging enables you to place that face exactly where you left it, and social networking allows you to share it. Cell phones with cameras and GPS’ could upload all the data quickly.
Google’s Picasa asks you to use a “name tag.” Picasa product manager Mike Horowitz, quoted in an earlier CNET article, says that “Once you’ve started naming people, we’ll start suggesting names for you based on similarity.”
“Knowing the privacy implications of face recognition,” according to the article, “Google is proceeding somewhat cautiously. Picasa users must specifically enable the name tag feature, and default name tags aren’t shared publicly.”
Quiet future changes to the Terms of Service agreements may leave privacy issues vague at best.
While I haven’t tested the software in this article myself, I’ve been thinking about playing with Photofinder. Not so much to find myself, but others. As I ponder this, one thing becomes abundantly clear: The privacy train has left the station, and will keep gaining steam, getting better and eventually crossing to video.
Regardless how you feel about it, as the song goes, we’ll grow accustomed to your facial recognition software, your laughs, your frowns, your ups and downs. The whole idea of facial recognition almost sounds like a plot for a bad Family Guy episode, or worse, a movie with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage.
If you’re not used to the idea that everyone has a camera, at least on their cell phone, get used to it. Photos of you can be snapped anywhere. We don’t always control what photos of us will be web published, or where. They can pop-up where even prospective employers can find them.
On the other hand, perhaps this software will give us new controls that we didn’t have before in protecting ourselves.
Does this, in some Orwellian way, change the way we will behave in public? Will pre-employment screenings make allowances for earlier indiscretions? Will HR departments take the time to look for growth and accomplishments in online behaviors and personal or professional branding?
I’ve used Google and photo sites to learn about prospective employees. Some have managed their self-directed “brand” well, some poorly, and some don’t exist on the web. For some reason, it is this third group that scares me most. They are either amazing at not leaving digital footprints, or amazing at not showing natural curiosity in playing with the emerging tools and toys.
Perhaps they keep their face in a jar by the door. But who is it for? All the image search engines, where do they all come from?