Chinese search engine leader Baidu is quietly testing a new facial recognition search engine system, Techweb reports. Located at shitu.baidu.com, the new service lets users paste in or upload an image and then run a search for a face within the frame.
After playing around with it for a couple of minutes, it appears quite capable of searching for simple celebrity photos, but breaks down when tasked with sub-optimal shots or lesser-known figures.
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The new feature is of particular interest given Google’s decision to avoid implementing facial recognition technology into its own search engine. Chairman Eric Schmidt said last year that he is concerned about potential misuses of the technology and predicted that some company would “cross the line.” Google did go on to implement its own “Find My Face” technology into its Google+ social network, but it took careful steps to ensure privacy, such as making it an opt-in feature and setting up an approval system.
Baidu, for its part, believes it can use facial recognition features for good. It operates a customized version of its search engine, powered by technology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Computing Technology, with the aim of finding missing people in China.
It will be interesting to see whether the new Baidu Shitu will supplement the crowd-sourced “human flesh search engine” that has become popular on online communities like Sina Weibo. The term refers to the collective efforts of Chinese netizens to track down and identify people, often for the purpose of shaming them or exposing them, though it is sometimes used for more innocent purposes like identifying someone from a viral video.
Though the Chinese government is taking steps that it claims will safeguard the privacy of its Internet users, it has also approved new regulations that will make it more difficult for netizens to be anonymous online by requiring real-name registration for Internet service providers and online services.
Baidu has a dominant position in the Chinese search market, though it is in the midst of facing off a new challenger in the form of Qihoo 360. The company recently launched a Siri-like voice assistant for Android. It brought in almost $1 billion in revenue last quarter, with over $500 million in profit.
Image credit: Liu Jin / AFP / Getty Images