Omniveillance 2 Year Old Prediction Comes True: Google & Facial Recognition Technology

May 19th, 2010

From the Financial Times:

Google executives are wrestling over whether to launch controversial facial recognition technology after a barrage of criticism over its privacy policies.

Mr Schmidt said: “Facial recognition is a good example . . . anything we did in that area would be highly, highly planned, discussed and reviewed. When you go through these things, you review your management procedures.”

Facial recognition has the potential to be the next privacy flashpoint. Google already uses the technology in its Picasa photo sharing service. This lets users tag some of the people in their photos and then searches through other albums to suggest other pictures in which the same faces appear.

Privacy campaigners have raised fears that adding facial recognition to Goggles would allow users to track strangers through a photograph, making it into an ideal tool for stalkers and identity fraudsters.

The implications of this technology are startling. If the facial recognition software is somehow applied to Google Street View–although faces are currently blurred–stalkers would be able to locate people on the street anywhere.

Way back in 2008 in Omniveillance, I wrote:

With the advent of photo-sharing Internet sites like Flikr, MySpace, and Facebook, people can now upload photographs and “tag” a specific person’s identity in the photo with metadata, as if they were captioning it in a scrapbook (i.e., John Doe is the third person on the left). Although currently the tagging process must be done manually, new facial recognition such as Google’s Picasa system utilizes artificial intelligence computers to automatically index and tag the subjects of photographs.147 Software like Polar Rose is capable of scanning the entire World Wide Web, matching faces with previously tagged photos based on similarities in biometric features, and automatically tagging the photo with the person’s identity.148 Berners-Lee mentions tagging as one of the key prerequisites to the semantic web.149

Once an image is tagged, these captions can be searched and indexed like any other document on the Internet. As a result of this emerging image-analysis technology, a search engine like Google can easily correlate a person’s face with his name, contact information, personal preferences, friends, and any of his personal information located on the Internet. In fact, Google’s Director of Product Management, R.J. Pittman, “said that Google is developing visual crawling software that can be used for facial recognition and scene analysis.”150 Applied to Street View, this future technology can be combined with tagging and advanced image search capabilities to identify anyone who is recorded by omniveillance.