Update: Like so many things on the internet, it turns out that Facezam is a hoax - one perpetrated by a viral marketing agency as a publicity stunt. It's unlikely that Facebook would ever allow an app similar to Russia's FindFace be used with its platform.
Remember FindFace, the controversial Russian facial recognition app that's been hailed as the end of public anonymity? The software can find people's profiles on Vkontakte, a Facebook-style social media site, from photos taken of them on the street. Now, a new application that works in the same way but using Facebook is about to launch in the US.
Facezam founder Jack Kenyon told me the idea for the app came while playing with Shazam, hence the name, and wanting to create a way to "Shazam someone's face." Other than Blippar, which requires users to add themselves to the company’s database, no such application was available worldwide. “We saw the hole in the market, so built Facezam to fill it,” he said in an email.
Much like FindFace, Facezam can work out a person’s identity with 70 percent accuracy, based on the 10,000 images it's been tested with. Users just need to (surreptitiously, probably) take a photograph of someone who they want to know more about/stalk.
Obviously, the privacy implications of Facezam are pretty dire. The Russian app was used to find the profiles of sex workers and porn actresses so trolls could harass them and send messages to their friends and families. Even Kenyon admits Facezam brings with it privacy concerns, but he says the “technology already exists in various forms within state institutions, and also publicly with the likes of Find Face in Russia and Blippar in the West."
“Despite reducing privacy forever, neither of those technologies have caused any major issues to date,” he adds.
If there's one thing that could stop Facezam, or at the very least force the creators to alter certain elements, it’s Facebook itself. The social network warned that Facezam violates its privacy policies. "This activity violates our terms and we’re reaching out to the developer to ensure they bring their app into compliance," said the company.
Kenyon, however, believes the app doesn’t violate Facebook’s terms. “At this moment in time Facebook haven't been in touch with us directly, so we have no reason to believe the app will need to be altered,” he said.
Assuming Facebook doesn’t delay or alter the free app, it will be launching March 21 worldwide on iOS. If you’re on Facebook, there’s no way to stop the app from attempting to find your profile. Though you could start wearing a hat, shades, or growing long hair to obscure your face, all of which can drop identification accuracy to 55 percent. We’ll have to wait and see if Kenyon’s prediction that “Facezam could be the end of our anonymous societies” turns out to be true.