This article was published on June 8, 2011

Face Recognition: Creepy or Cool?

Face Recognition: Creepy or Cool?
Martin SFP Bryant
Story by

Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

Facebook has stirred up a bit of a storm over the roll-out of its Tag Suggestions feature. It seems people don’t the idea of Facebook automatically identifying them in other people’s pictures and allowing them to be tagged.

The news caused a busy thread on The Next Web’s Facebook page, where readers are split over whether this is really disturbing technology or incredibly cool.

On one hand, Lynn Taylor says it’s an “Invasion of privacy“, while Chris Johnson says that it’s “About me being able to control what images I’m tagged in. I don’t want pictures that I don’t approve showing up on my profile.

On the other side, we have Robert Scoble, who commented on our Facebook discussion: “This is the coolest thing Facebook has done for photos… because it saves me time. I personally turn on everything to be public. If I don’t want you to see it I sure won’t post it on Facebook anyway.

It could be said that some people are being overly panicky about this service. It only ever suggests people who you’re already friends with, and people have always been able to tag others anyway, assuming privacy settings were set up to allow it. Anyway, whichever side you agree with, there’s one thing that’s certain – Facebook’s automated suggestions based on face recognition is a pretty tame implementation of face recognition. what’s around the corner is what you should be more concerned about.

The future of face recognition

Imagine a future where you can hold your phone up, take a picture of a stranger and immediately get a full social profile of them – their Twitter account, Facebook profile, their job from their LinkedIn account and much more. While in some cases this would be incredibly cool, it would also be incredibly frightening for many people, and the opportunities for it to be misused for criminal purposes are many.

What’s more, it’s technically possible now. Google’s Eric Schmidt last week stated that facial recognition was the only technology the company has ever held back from the public. ““We built that technology and withheld it [because] people could use in a very bad way,” he said at the D9 conference.

Imagine the Google Goggles app being an easy way to find out more about that cute girl you fancy or whether the man at the door claiming to want to read the gas meter really is who he says he is… or to find out more about your next murder victim. There would be legitimate uses for the technology but also potentially horrific ones too.

Just because Google has held back, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t jump in to develop such an app. If there’s one thing that time has taught us, you can’t hold back the march of technology. Even if every government on earth banned widespread consumer face recognition, there would still be a black market for apps that enabled it, no doubt.

Whether you think it’s cool, creepy or a mix of the two – a facial recognition revolution is on the way, and we’re simply going to have to adjust to it.

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