Facial recognition meets Search. We knew this was coming, right?
CNN reports that Google is working on a mobile app that will use facial recognition technology to turn mobile phone photos into a means to identify people. The app would serve as a form of visual "search," displaying results including name and email address.
Updated: Google says it is not working on a mobile app of this nature and would not introduce any facial recognition technology into any of its apps "unless there was a strong privacy model in place."
While privacy advocates will be quick to identify all the dangers and implications of such a thing, Google is making it clear ahead of time that the service will be "opt in." Users will have to agree to let their faces and data be retrievable by the app.
"We recognize that Google has to be extra careful when it comes to these [privacy] issues," Harmut Neven, Google's engineering director for image-recognition development, told CNN. Indeed, the FTC found earlier this week that Google had engaged in "deceptive privacy practices" with its roll-out of Buzz, exposing people's information without their consent. In the future, the FTC has stipulated, users will have to opt-in rather than opt-out when Google makes a major privacy change.
No doubt, adding facial recognition technology to the way you're "Google-able" would be seen as a major privacy change.
But the technology to do this already largely exists, says Neven, whose company Neven Vision was acquired by Google in 2006. Indeed, Facebook has been working on facial recognition technology too so that photos uploaded to the site can be automatically tagged with users' names. However, while the technology at Facebook just uses data within, well, Facebook, the Google app would likely crawl the Web, including sites like Flickr and Picasa in order to link photos to someone's identity.
It's a similar process to Google Goggles, its image-recognition search engine for objects.
Google won't say what the production timeline is for the app or when it plans to release the product, (Edited to add: actually Google says there're no plans for the app at all) but it's clear that the company is already thinking about its strategy around the privacy - and the publicity - implications when this happens.