Tech Companies Could Own Your “Faceprint”

Facebook’s public launching of their “Moments” photo-sharing app, which uses facial recognition technology to identify people by name in the photos that users share, had Fortune magazine asking, “Who owns your face?”

Facebook Image

According to Fortune, the answer to that very personal question could be Facebook as well as any other technology company that uses facial recognition in their software products.

The reason for this is that there are few U.S. laws that govern or restrict the use of personal information that is collected with facial recognition technology.

Only three states have laws that restrict the use of biometric identification information and most federal laws apply only to government use of this data, leaving companies largely free to do as they wish with facial recognition information.

Facebook’s “Moments” app will use the social network’s large “faceprint” database and artificial intelligence algorithms to recognize people by name in digital images.

The app will also be able to recognize the time, location and personal associations of people in the images and then categorize images into individual moments.

Since the app has an “opt out” user policy rather than an “opt in”, it is possible that a user’s friends and family who are captured in a photo and shared on the app could become part of Facebook’s faceprint collection without even giving permission or using the app themselves.

Privacy advocates will see the “Moments” app as one more type of ubiquitous, techy surveillance tool that is creeping into the lives of almost every person on the planet. To be sure, it isn’t hard to imagine all sorts of nightmare scenarios that this new social media tool could be used for.

It is possible that we are not far away from the time when we will be able to photograph, identify and access personal information for any stranger on the street that passes us by. Facebook is certainly moving us closer to that Orwellian reality.

Shockingly, Facebook’s database of people’s faceprints is even larger than the one used by the FBI.

Presumably, Facebook’s facial recognition data will also be tied to the treasure trove of personal information from their Social Graph as well as the personal information that they buy from consumer data brokers like Acxiom.

As “faceprint” databases grow larger and facial recognition technology is adopted by more services and accepted by more people, it is possible that we are adopting a new defacto form of worldwide personal identification that is largely unrestricted, especially in the United States.

Facebook’s photo “tagging” feature is currently not available in European Union countries or Canada due to its intrusive nature and it is possible that their “Moments” app will not be available in these countries due to the same type of privacy concerns about its usage.

Of course Facebook isn’t the only technology company using facial recognition technology. Google, Apple, Microsoft and countless other companies are advancing this people search and identification technology.

However, Facebook appears, at least publicly, to be the most aggressive and shameless in their pursuit of every last shred of personal data they can collect.

News of the Facebook “Moments” app follows just a few months after it was revealed that Facebook is working closely with large consumer data companies to compile profiles of as many people as they can, including people who have never used any of Facebook’s social media sites or apps [ see Facebook’s Growing Appetite For Personal Data ].