Why Facebook acquiring Face.com just makes too much damn sense

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A few weeks ago, we reintroduced you to an app called Klik, which had been making waves after being refined some by Face.com. Face.com is the company behind the face recognition app, which leverages more than just reading faces and naming names.

Klik is able to identify subjects in real-time: hold the camera up to a friend’s face, and Klik can — within moments — tell you who it is. It connects with your Facebook account and uses your friends and their photos as a database it searches to recognize them in real life. And if it has trouble, there is a learn mode where it gives you options for who it thinks the subject is.

klik-learning-modeIt’s perhaps the most sophisticated face recognition technology users have been able to get their hands on, and that’s just Klik. The Face.com API has various other bells and whistles to show off, like age and gender detection, and even mood reading.

Combine this with Facebook’s recent launch of its Camera App and Klik’s further moves into mobile by integrating extensively with the social network’s platform are why rumors stemming from an Israeli blog report saying Facebook’s next acquisition will be Face.com make a whole lot of sense. During my hands-on with Klik, I actually wondered how long until someone – probably Facebook, maybe Apple – scooped up this technology.

Gil Hirsh from Face.comIn lieu of the speculation, let’s look a little harder at Face.com. It’s an Israel-based startup with offices in Tel Aviv and New York. It was founded by Gil Hirsh in 2007, the product of GarageGeek, a Tel Aviv startup event, and has since become responsible for an incredibly popular and well-used free API. Most tellingly, Face.com was purported to be the technology used to create Facebook’s auto-tagging feature introduced last year (the company has declined to comment on the rumor).

Face.com is worth something, too. Russian search engine Yandex invested in the company in 2010, which not only meant more money but a serious name in tech giving it even more credibility.

By many accounts, the deal is as good as done and Facebook will buy Face.com for $100 million. Of course we should all swallow a large grain of salt right now: Post IPO, it’s not unusual for startups to try and ride coattails for higher valuations. Still, it all makes a lot of sense, so let’s get to the good stuff: Why should you care about this very possible acquisition.

Facebook users should care for one of two reasons, possibly both depending on your point of view. You’re either going to care because for privacy’s sake: Do you really want more systems that recognize and tag you on Facebook? Or, you’re going to think real-time: Seamless face recognition is really, really cool.

Starting with the latter, it would be really cool. Like it or not, tagging friends in Facebook photos has long been one of the site’s most popular features. And given that it’s the world’s most popular photo sharing platform, combining tagging with new recognition technology means it’s an even quicker process. And add to the equation that Facebook is trying to do a better job with mobile (as partially evidenced by its Camera App), and the added incentive a mobile-only feature like this gives it seems perfectly logical. One of the most convincing elements of the Camera App is that you can tag friends from it, and the ability to simply take, filter, and upload a picture without having to manually find the corresponding name would make it a fundamentally better user experience. It’s also a fun novelty to hold up your phone and have an app simultaneously identify your friends.

Now for the requisite privacy section of this article. There are plenty of people who balked when Facebook introduced auto-tagging, and these same folks won’t like the idea of full Face.com integration. Every time someone takes your picture, you have to accept it might end up tagged on Facebook, and introducing this tool would mean that is many times more likely. And it means features like age, mood, gender, weight, height, and more could also be recognized, labeled, and put on Facebook.

Right now, the way Klik works is that it only reads your Facebook friends’ likenesses; I can’t take a picture of my friend’s friend who I am not Facebook friends with (I fully realize the ridiculousness of that statement) and tag him or her in real-time. But that’s right now, and futurist privacy advocates will ask when this will happen – when will we be able to use an app, maybe the Facebook Camera app plus Face.com, to take pictures of strangers and identify and tag them in real time?

Not at the moment, that’s for sure, but it’s an implication Facebook would have to be prepared to handle. The company has had plenty of practice handling privacy questions, however, and those concerns certainly aren’t going to keep Facebook from its mobile conquest. 

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