While facial recognition technology has a number of positive uses, such as finding missing people, an alternative form of ID, and even tagging friends on Facebook, it does have worrying implications when it comes to privacy.
In Russia, a new face recognition app is becoming so popular that it could result in the end of public anonymity, according to a report in The Guardian.
FindFace, which launched two months ago, lets users take a photo of a crowd and work out individuals' identities with 70 percent reliability. It does this by using image recognition technology to compare faces against profile pictures on Vkontakte, a Facebook-style social media site that has 200 million users.
The app already boasts 500,000 users and has performed nearly 3 million searches. Though currently limited to Russia, the app’s creators, Artem Kukharenko and Alexander Kabakov, imagine a world where the app is used by everyone to examine strangers’ social network profiles just by taking a photo of them on the street.
Kabakov has suggested that the app could have applications when it comes to 'dating'. “If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request,” he said. “It also looks for similar people. So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages.” It sounds like creepy stalkers everywhere will soon have a reason to rejoice.
Other than tracking down Scarlett Johansson lookalikes and harassing random women you find attractive, the app’s already found other uses. The creators are about to sign a deal with the Moscow city government to implement the technology into 150,000 CCTV cameras. Should a crime be committed, the faces of everyone in the area will be checked against photos from various records, including social media sites, to determine if they're a possible suspect.
FindFace’s Orwellian nightmare scenario is already rearing its head. Recently, the app was used to find the profiles of Russian sex workers and porn actresses so trolls could harass them and send messages to their friends and families. And the fact it’s so popular in Russia, a country not known for respecting the privacy rights of its citizens, is a big concern.
Kabakov also envisions the technology being used in the retail sector. He talks about a shop CCTV camera capturing a person looking at a product, such as a laptop, and then the retailer identifying the individual and bombarding them with adverts for laptops – probably until they go out and buy one.
As for the big question of whether the app can access Facebook’s image database: no, it can’t. Not right now, at least. The creators say the US site stores photos in a way that is harder to access than Vkontakte, so lets hope things stay this way.
In addressing people’s privacy fears, Kabakov goes with the ‘it’s just the way things are, so get used to it’ argument: “In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people’s movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that.”
To discover more about FindFace, check out the video below, which somehow manages to be as sinister as the app itself.