Blog Archive


17 April 2013

Facial recognition

It is now almost two years since Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, made headlines with his comments that Google would get right up to the creepy line but not cross it when it came to collecting personal data such as that used for facial recognition. At that time he said Google had built but ‘withheld’ facial recognition technology. As far as I know it’s the only technology Google built and after looking at it we decided to stop, he said.

Schmidt expressed particular concerns about the combination of facial recognition and mobile tracking, fearing the technology could be used against citizens. Lately though, Google is showing renewed interest in biometric and pattern recognition technologies.

PatentBolt reports that Google has finally been granted a patent for its facial unlock technology, which is already familiar to users of Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich. The patent is said to include tweaks to identify ‘liveness’ to address early teething issues of users being able to bypass the system with a photograph.

Google is also reported to be introducing facial recognition capabilities to its Knowledge Graph feature. It has added facial recognition to a feature that provides information about movies streamed from the Google Play store to Android tablets. When users pause a movie, it will display information on the actors and music onscreen. Google uses facial recognition to identify the actors in the scene that has been paused and searches for information on them.

In the real world, InSight, a partly Google-funded project, is investigating the possibility of using clothes and the patterns on them to help Google Glass wearers identify people in crowded locations, such as shopping centres, reports New Scientist.

The system is based on a smartphone app and camera to generate and share what is rather confusingly called a ‘fingerprint’ of a person based on photos captured of them as they use the device. It seems users have to opt in to this and the system only works while they are wearing that day’s outfit.

Commentators are describing this as possibly incremental to facial recognition, which is difficult to achieve in a shopping centre crowd, for example, where people are walking in all directions. A future combination of facial recognition and pattern recognition applied to clothing, powered by the might of Google, could produce an unparalleled force for biometric identification.

This comes as six European data protection agencies began considering legal action over Google’s privacy policy. Late last year a European Commission working party reported that the privacy policy did not meet EC standards on data protection and gave Google four months to comply. That period has now elapsed and the authorities are deliberating as to their next move.




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