Ever pass by a building or landmark, wonder what it is, and wish you could just find out on the spot? Now you can! With the click of your camera phone combined with the launch of "Goggles" - a new image recognition technology where instantly you can receive pictures and information from one photo. It is a mobile image recognition beta application, developed by Google and called Goggles (don't be confused!), that is currently structured for the Android Operating System.
This remarkable visual search technology will be soon be expanded to allow a user to take a picture of an item (work of art, book, plant, etc.) on a mobile phone, then search for similar images and information about the object on the web instantly. As our technological capabilities increase exponentially, we might all say this was inevitable and be comfortable with how we will use the new programs for fun or good things. But a pause is necessary.
Imagine you are at the gym or the grocery store and a creep sidles up and manages to take a picture of you with his cell phone. Within seconds, using this image recognition technology, he would have access to your photos on Facebook, find your name, where you work or live and any other info that exists in cyberspace. That is clearly a scary prospect. Take it one step further: what happens when predator aims his camera at a child on the playground. The predator would have access to similar images of the child found on the web which could lead to the child's school and possibly home address.
Goggles is currently limited to allowing a user to locate and learn about physical objects. However, technologies (including a yet-unreleased component of Goggles itself) exist today that employ similar methods to crawl the web to locate images containing facial characteristics of people. These photos could be gathered from your employer's public website, online community newsletters, schools and universities, Facebook and any other public area on the web where your photo may resides (even without your knowledge).
Google has taken some heat for privacy concerns in some of its services, so for now it is holding off from releasing the facial recognition aspect of Goggles. However, other software developers are already delivering mobile and web applications containing facial recognition technology. Just look at your iPhoto if you are a Mac user.
The Swedish company The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) is currently testing a product called Recognizr. The TAT product allows a user to snap a photo of anyone in public, select the "recognize" button, and then receive photos and information about that person from social networking sites. TAT does have privacy policies in place. They offer an opt-in provision from the subject of the photo in order for Recognizr to work. But TAT does not plan to offer its service directly to consumers. Instead, it will make the technology available for application development by mobile phone manufacturers and phone service providers. These companies may or may not choose to follow TAT's privacy standards.
Face.com, an Israeli company, has also developed several products that include facial recognition technology. Developers will be able to use and expand upon its services. One Face.com product is CelebrityFinder which uses facial recognition technology to pull all photos (and lookalikes) of a celebrity from Twitter feeds. Face.com is in the process of enhancing the face detection functionality to include profile poses. The Face.com privacy policies are generally stated: the use of its product may not violate user privacy and that users must inform others that they have been tagged and provide them with the ability to remove their tags. I feel safe already.
So people - the bottom line is that the facial recognition technology is here already. We are living in a point, click, and stalk world. So how can we protect ourselves, and our families, from stalkers who will use this technology to their criminal advantage? It is unlikely we can pass an enforceable law that makes it a crime to take a non-celebrity person's photos in public, even if the photo is taken of a child.
Perhaps federal legislation could be aimed at the technology companies and mobile phone carriers? We could demand that strong privacy policies for the use of facial recognition software from Face.com, TAT, and other developers be made mandatory before use. While this type of legislation would not provide a guarantee from illicit use of this potentially creepy technology, it would assist in increasing consumer awareness. Most of all, we must hold those that develop, host, and use the technology accountable so that we can prevent the next wave of cyberstalking before it begins.
-- Robin Sax & Melissa Alonzo Kriz
Follow Robin Sax on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robinsax