FindFace App Could End All Hopes Of Internet Privacy

If the founders of a new face recognition app get their way, anonymity in public could soon be a thing of the past. FindFace, launched two months ago and currently taking Russia by storm, allows users to photograph people in a crowd and figure out their identities, with 70% reliability.

It works by comparing photographs to profile pictures and in the future, the designers imagine a world where people walking past you on the street could find your social network profile by sneaking a photograph of you, and shops, advertisers and the police could pick your face out of crowds and track you down via social networks.

In the short time since the launch, Findface has amassed 500,000 users and processed nearly 3m searches, according to its founders.

Unlike other facial recognition technology, their algorithm allows quick searches in big data sets. Three million searches in a database of nearly 1billion photographs: that’s hundreds of trillions of comparisons. With this algorithm, you can search through a billion photographs in less than a second from a standard desktop computer. The app will give you the most likely match to the face that is uploaded, as well as 10 people it thinks look similar.

The technology can work with any photographic database, though it currently cannot use Facebook, because even the public photographs are stored in a way that is harder to access. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before this challenge is resolved. We might even see Facebook leading the charge if they see a way to monetize this technology.

Some security analysts have sounded the alarm about the potentially disturbing implications. The app has already been used by a St Petersburg photographer to snap and identify people on the city’s metro line.

But the FindFace app is really just a shop window for the technology, the founders said. There is a paid function for those who want to make more than 30 searches a month, but this is more to regulate the servers from overload rather than to make money. They believe the real money-maker from their face-recognition technology will come from law enforcement and retail.

The pair claims they have been contacted by police departments in other regions, who told them they started loading suspect or witness photographs into FindFace and came up with results. “It’s nuts: there were cases that had seen no movement for years, and now they are being solved,” said Kabakov.

The startup is in the final stages of signing a contract with Moscow city government to work with the city’s network of 150,000 CCTV cameras. If a crime is committed, the mugshots of anyone in the area can be fed into the system and matched with photographs of wanted lists, court records, and even social networks.

It does not take a wild imagination to come up with sinister applications in this field; for example being able to tag and identify participants in street protests, sporting events or any large group or gathering in places where CCTV cameras are installed.

The pair also has big plans for the retail sector. Kabakov imagines a world where cameras identify you looking at, say, a stereo in a shop, the retailer finds your identity, and then targets you with marketing for stereos in the subsequent days.

Again, it all sounds more than a little disturbing. In today’s world we are constantly surrounded by gadgets. Our cell phones, iPads, tablets, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us to the internet. We already have large data files on people’s movements, their interests and so on, cataloged on massive internet servers around the world – next they’ll be matching our interests to our photographs and perhaps when a camera picks us up on the street – everyone will know exactly where we are. Now we can really kiss our privacy goodbye. From the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/18/russias-new-findface-app-identifies-strangers-in-a-crowd-with-70-percent-accuracy/

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