Apple snaps up a startup with facial recognition that doesn’t invade user privacy

Apple confirmed earlier today the acquisition of Palo Alto-based startup Perceptio, co-founded by Zak Stone and Nicholas Pinto. It is the latest in a growing list of small startups that are being gobbled up by the tech giant.

The startup may be relatively unknown, but Perceptio has been working on interesting photo technology that uses facial recognition software and deep learning to assess pictures without compromising users’ private data. The company was self-funded by its founders, both of whom have PhDs from Harvard and MIT, respectively.

Stone and Pinto are also in charge of the Pocket Pigeon Society, which developed the app Smoothie for iOS. Smoothie lets users change videos into animations by “scrubbing back and forth through time, DJ-style.”

While the app may not seem that impressive on its own, Perceptio told Re/Code last year that its goal with the app is to make faces easier to recognize for deep learning Artificial Intelligence systems. Apparently, the company was using video because it is inherently more valuable than a photo for an image processing system, as it can capture much more depth. This in turn helps the deep learning system recognize faces faster. Perceptio kept its work on deep learning under wraps, however, and it hasn’t introduced any interesting data statistics or other apps.

One of the core focuses for Perceptio was making sure all processing remains on the mobile device, instead of going into the cloud. That goes against the common trend of deep learning systems, which borrow information from the cloud to enhance speeds. Keeping all of the private information from a photo or video on the device may have appealed to Apple. The iPhone maker has blasted several tech companies for the lack of privacy towards customers, and enhanced its mobile security to block governments and others from snooping.

Image identification is one of the next trends for photo sharing services. Instagram and Facebook both offer facial detection, and Google Photos blows everything else out of the water with identification labels. Apple most likely wants to join in, but only if it can establish security on all photos and videos uploaded.

If Perceptio has found a way to make its tech work, it could help Apple revamp its photo gallery app. Of course, at this point, that’s just speculation, and we may not see the fruits of this purchase for some time.

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