Omniveillance See I Told You So: Google Goggles Can Be Used for Facial Recognition

December 16th, 2009

Oh Google. Everytime I predict something scary, you end up doing it.

I previously blogged about Google Googles. Briefly, the service allows a person with a camera phone to take a picture of something, upload the picture to Google, and search about that item. Well, as I predicted, this technology can also be used to take pictures of people, and by using Google’s facial recognition capabilities, find more information about that person.

From the NZ Herald:

But the most controversial aspect of the new visual search tool is its capacity to allow users to take a photo of a stranger to find out more about them.

With millions of people having an online presence, complete with photos, on websites such as Facebook, it is possible to use the search tool to identify people, obtain contact information, and learn about their tastes in music, their friends and their background.

While people can choose to upload photographs to facebook or myspace, people cannot choose to be hidden from the peering eye of omniveillance. As I wrote in  Omniveillance, Google, Privacy in Public, and the Right to Your Digital Identity: A Tort for Recording and Disseminating an Individual’s Image over the Internet (p. 341):

Currently, people who seek to stay out of the limelight can avoid using a computer, abstain from posting to blogs, and miss out on all of the fun of social networking. However, under this new regime, you can’t run; you can’t hide; there is no escape.

Props to Google for shutting down this service.

Google has now confirmed that it is blocking this use of Goggles until the implications have been fully explored.

Marissa Mayer, the vice-president of Google’s search product and user experience, said: “We are blocking out people’s faces if people try to use Google Goggles to search for information about them.

“Until we understand the implications of the facial-recognition tool we have decided to block out people’s faces. We need to understand how this tool affects people’s privacy and we cannot change that decision until we do.”

As you may recall, initially, Google did not blur out faces in Google Street View.  It seems Google can learn the same kind of lesson here. Faces are different.