Facial recognition can be a wonderful feature for platforms and devices: You can unlock your computer with it, automatically sort photos by who’s in them, and even swap your face with your dog in Snapchat. But what happens when facial recognition is so good that it almost completely eliminates the potential of anonymity in public?
That’s exactly the question being asked about FindFace, a new facial recognition app that uses profile photos of Russia’s leading social network to find the identity of anyone in a photo with a ridiculous 70-percent success rate.
The key to the whole operation is the use of Russia’s Vkontakte social network in collaboration with a proprietary search algorithm developed by FindFace’s twenty-something co-founders, Alexander Kabakov and Artem Kukharenko.
Using profile photos of Vkontakte’s 200 million users, FindFace’s algorithm is able to search through a database of over one billion photographs in mere seconds, using only four standard servers. What users are given as a result is the closest match FindFace could detect and the ten closest matches after that. Strangely, in its video demo and marketing images, FindFace seems to focus only on women, which makes the app look like it could be used for nefarious purposes.
While the app is impressive in its own right, the app is nothing more than a teaser for what the FindFace backend is truly capable of achieving.
Already, the startup has been approached by the local Moscow government to work alongside the city’s 150,000 CCTV cameras to help identify criminals on-the-fly. Mugshots and other visuals would be imported into the database and using the FindFace’s algorithm, police would be able to track down a criminal in mere seconds using pinpoint accuracy.
In addition to government use, FindFace seems very interested in getting into retail and marketing.
“Kabakov imagines a world where cameras fix you looking at, say, a stereo in a shop, the retailer finds your identity, and then targets you with marketing for stereos in the subsequent days,” The Guardian reported.
It’s the epitome of targeted marketing, and so long as companies are willing to pay, Kabakov and Kukharenko seem ready to bite.
“In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets,” Kabakov told The Guardian. “Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people’s movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that.”
If you’re wondering when FindFace would aim for the much larger target of using Facebook and its 1.65 billion users as a database, don’t count on it being anytime soon, if ever.
According to FindFace’s founders, Facebook is far stricter on its privacy policies. This means the FindFace algorithm can’t access multiple profile images like it can with the less secure Vkontakte.