It was only a matter of time, and that time is fast approaching: Google is incubating a mobile app that will use facial recognition technology to identify people and access their personal info via photos snapped with a digital camera or mobile device. Privacy advocates, prepare for war.
For its part, Google is trying to get in front of the privacy argument that is undoubtedly coming (Google is getting pretty good at this by now) by assuring users that they will have to opt into such a service by checking a box. And the search giant is working on added layers of security and privacy to ensure that only those who want to be photographically found will be.
The idea is that Google’s massive search resources could be used to trawl social networks, online photo sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa, and the like to associate an individual’s face with his or her online presence. This, of course, could also include contact info like email addresses and phone numbers. It would at the very least identify a person by name, with which any reasonably tech-savvy person could track down contact information anyhow.
The technology, a Google engineer says, already exists and has for some time (though we really already knew that, since Google is not the first to come up with such an app). But the company is sensitive to privacy issues–if not out of genuine concern for its users then for avoiding public backlash–and wants to make sure that when it launches, it launches the right way. As such, Google has not said when it will release the product, or even so much as offered a rough production timeline. But don’t worry about being left out of the loop; when the app does launch, the stranger sitting across the coffee shop will surely email you to to let you know.
Update: A Google rep. dropped us a call to let us know that the news story upon which this blog post is based is “extremely speculative,” and that the company has no such application in the pipeline, nor does it have plans to introduce such a facial recognition app to its development pipeline. According to Google, the engineer–director of engineering Hartmut Neven–was speaking to CNN’s reporter about hypothetical uses for some of Google’s technology, not about existing applications or applications under development.