Before long, we’ll be living in a world in which store signs know what kind of customer is looking at them, where home-security cameras know who’s coming through the door and when Facebook will be able to tell if you’re in a photo the moment it’s uploaded. The distant future? Try next month. Your face is about to become big business and that has some players excited and others worried that citizens’ control over their own privacy will be gravely eroded.
Facial-recognition technology has long been the domain of security agencies, which have used it to verify official documents, help secure borders and assist in policing duties. And while this field is only growing, the explosion of ever-faster computers, ever-cheaper cameras and growing network capacity has seen the technology making inroads into the consumer world as well.
In its rudimentary forms, consumers are already familiar with it: For years, point-and-shoot cameras have been able to pick out the faces in a scene and adjust the shot accordingly. Webcam software has long been able to spot faces, if only to overlay a mariachi hat and mustache in the right spot. But spotting faces and putting names to them are two different things.
Two key elements are required for facial recognition: Software that analyzes images and databases of identifying information that can link faces to names. One isn’t much good without the other – but the Internet is bringing them together.
One online behemoth is uniquely poised to put a face to a name.
Facebook, a company with more than 750 million users and a spotty privacy record, is rolling out facial-recognition technology that will automatically suggest names of friends in photos that are being uploaded. Already available in many countries – but not yet in Canada – the feature is kicking up a cloud of protest.