By Natasha Baker
TORONTO (Reuters) - Imagine taking a snapshot of a group of friends and having your smartphone instantly reveal the identity of everyone in the photo.
A new iPhone app called KLiK performs real-time facial recognition to automatically identify and tag friends in photos.
"It's our most recent evolution of both the platform and the consumer product that we're offering," said Gil Hirsch, the CEO of the facial recognition technology platform Face.com, which launched the app.
"We noticed that at parties or events there were many photos being taken but only a few were actually getting tagged."
By connecting with Facebook, the app scans friends' photos to develop a facial profile of everyone in a user's network. The app identifies people by matching faces in photos taken with, or uploaded to, the app to these profiles.
Because the app relies on the connection to Facebook, only friends in a user's network can be identified.
"It's not like you can point this at someone on the street and make it work," said Hirsch.
But the app does include a learn mode to use for friends who are not on Facebook. It allows users to teach the app who someone is by pointing the camera at them and manually entering their name.
"It's all private and on your device only," explained Hirsch, adding that the person will then be tagged automatically.
"I use it to tag my children so that I can later search for all the photos I took of them."
Users can also apply Instagram-style filters and share photos via Facebook, Twitter or email.
Although the app is only able to identify Facebook friends, or people entered manually, some critics are concerned about privacy issues.
"This system has been engineered from the get-go to preserve privacy and also deliver a social fun value and nothing creepy," Hirsch responded.
The company, which was established in 2009, has created several other apps, including Photo Finder, a Facebook app that scans friends' photos to identify photos of you that were never tagged.
The company also provides technology for facial detection, which is distinct from recognition because it reveals information about subjects in a photo without revealing identity. The technology can reveal gender, mood, and even age.
"We provide a minimum and maximum and approximate age guesstimate, only using the facial information in the photo -- nothing else," Hirsch said.
In 2010, Face.com made their underlying facial recognition technology freely available for developers to incorporate into their own applications. Since then 45,000 developers have made use of their technology.
The company says KLiK is approximately 90 percent accurate.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)