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About Face

Innovation times

Posted by JR Reagan on January 9, 2014

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It’s written all over your face

Your mother’s not the only one collecting pictures of your face.

Thanks to improvements in facial recognition technology, everyone from law enforcement agencies to casinos to advertisers to social media uses recognition algorithms to gather facial information into databases and apply it for various identification purposes.

Scientists who pioneered the industry in the mid-1960s labored to process 40 photographs in an hour. Today, biometrics companies claim the computing power to zip through 20 million facial comparisons per second.

Accuracy might not have quite kept pace with speed, but it’s not far off. With high-resolution cameras and 3D scanning, some algorithms tested in the 2006 Face Recognition Grand Challenge beat out human counterparts when distinguishing faces, and were even able to tell identical twins apart.

The new fingerprints

At least one law enforcement agency in the U.S. already employs facial recognition software technology, according to a report from In San Diego, an unnamed law enforcement group began testing a handheld facial recognition tool from the company during the summer of 2012.

The article provides further information about the FaceFirst technology and its legal applications. Speaking with a local news channel, a FaceFirst representative said, "If they spot someone who doesn't have identification, they can take their picture with their phone and immediately get a result” if facial data about that person is stored within the system.

Live surveillance cameras at Panama’s Tocumen airport and at some of the country’s border crossings feed data into a FaceFirst system there, processing faces “on a scale beyond any other system ever implemented.”

The FBI, too, has been hard at work compiling databases of facial profiles. Its billion-dollar Next Generation Identification (NGI) program will upgrade fingerprint IDs used to track criminals and perform surveillance with face recognition technology.

A book of faces

Facial recognition is now being used by brands, not just people with badges. On January 31, 2013, Facebook announced that was turning back on the auto-tag feature that scans photos and automatically identifies the people in them. The announcement earned more than a million Likes from users in the month that followed.

Facebook began working with facial recognition firm in 2010 to identify people in uploaded photos, and purchased the company for an undisclosed amount in June 2012.

Analysts envisage many future applications from the data being collected and analyzed by Facebook, include brand tagging and an image-based search engine, along with customized ads and potential shopping applications. reported on other uses of facial recognition technology in a September 2012 article. Already in Las Vegas, a resort uses digital billboards to suggest activities for guests based on the facial characteristics it scans. It’s not a far stretch to foresee ads and window displays customized for passersby.

Singles looking for action can use the mobile app SceneTap to find out whether a local club is hopping, what the gender ratio is, and the average patron age. The company doesn’t specifically identify people at its scenes, but aggregates and releases information about them.

Face recognition has gone mobile, too. Apps allow users to lock and unlock their Droids and iPhones with a faceprint, and to automatically recognize friends (and even strangers) when they photograph them.

Facing the future

Depending on your comfort level, facial recognition applications run the full scale from cool to creepy. Until U.S. privacy laws catch up with the speeding development of this technology, you don’t have to cover your face with a paper bag every time you leave home.

Manage your privacy settings on Facebook. Follow these other simple steps to protect personal information. And if you’d like to remain completely unidentifiable, don’t save your money for Google Glasses. Instead, keep your eyes open for these anti-facial recognition goggles, coming soon to a location near you.  


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