Facebooks Facial Recognition

Facebook acquired Face.com, a facial recognition start-up, in a likely attempt to make photo-tagging easier on the social network.

The acquisition was rumored last month, but is now official. According to TechCrunch, Facebook will spend around $100 million on the purchase–roughly one tenth of what the company plans to spend on Instagram.

Face.com’s technology can identify Facebook users’ faces in photos or live video. The company already offers a Facebook app called Photo Tagger, which can identify faces and suggest photo tags, and also offers a standalone iPhone app called Klik that can identify friends in real time and adapt image filters to people’s faces. Face.com also offers an API so other app developers can use and build on the company’s technology. With the acquisition, Facebook will bring the Face.com team in house.

Future Plans

Klik, an iPhone app by Face.com, identifies your Facebook friends in real time and lets users apply photo filters. Although Facebook and Face.com haven’t said exactly what they’ll do together, a blog post by Face.com hints at future plans: “We love building products, and like our friends at Facebook, we think that mobile is a critical part of people’s lives as they both create and consume content, and share content with their social graph,”

Considering Facebook’s recently announced acquisition of Instagram and the launch of its own Facebook Camera app, it’s clear that Facebook is turning a lot more attention to mobile photo-sharing. With Face.com in-house, Facebook will be able to help users tag photos faster on their mobile devices–provided they can get over the creepiness of doing so.

Why Facebook’s Facial Recognition is Creepy.

We talked about this back in June of last year. Basically, Facebook is using facial recognition technology to “suggest” tags to users who upload photos. In other words, if I upload six photos of my friend Lexi, Facebook may “recognize” her face (thanks to other tagged photos of her on the website) and “suggest” that I tag her in those six photos. This makes the tagging process a little easier for me–after all, aren’t I more likely to tag Lexi if all I have to do is click a button that says “yes, tag away”? Another “benefit” is that I can tag all of these photos of at once, instead of having to tag each one individually?

Sure, it’s easier. Easier for Facebook to invade your privacy, that is. Ok, I know that sound a little melodramatic. But let’s take a look at some facts:

– Facebook has 845 million members with 483 million “daily active users”. They’re on track to hit 1 Billion users by August 2012.

– Each day, Facebook’s members upload over 200 million photos, and Facebook currently hosts over 90 billion photos.

– Each time you “tag” a photo on Facebook, its facial recognition technology learns more about what that “tagged” person looks like.

– Even if you happen to “opt out” of the facial recognition tagging, Facebook’s technology can surely use the tagged photos of you (hey, perhaps even the tagged photos of you that you end up un-tagging) to figure out what you look like.

– Right now Facebook is using this technology to help people tag photos. But once they have an accurate facial recognition database of several hundred million people? Hmmmmm

At the end of the day, Facebook’s facial recognition technology is downright creepy. Opting out of the service doesn’t mean Facebook will stop trying to recognize your face–it just means that Facebook will stop suggesting that other people tag you. Even Google has noted the utter creepiness of facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition technology will ultimately culminate in the ability to search for people using just a picture. Will be the end of privacy as we know it–imagine, a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street, in a crowd, or with a telephoto lens, and discover everything about you on the internet.

Obviously, we can’t stop the world of technology from moving toward the development of accurate facial recognition software. But so far, no facial recognition software has really been a threat to our privacy, because nobody has that huge database of people and the photos required. Oh wait, except for Facebook.

So, if you’re one of those “paranoid” type of people who sees a conspiracy around every corner perhaps not only should you opt out of Facebook’s facial recognition technology by going to: Home > Account Settings > Privacy Settings > Profile and Tagging > Edit Settings and then edit “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded” and make the change – you should also upload random pictures of trees, animals, stuffed toys, fast cars and other inanimate objects then tag them as yourself.

Disclaimer: the steps to opt out as outlined above were accurate when this article was posted – Facebook has a knack of changing things on a regular basis to keep folks confused.

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