Facial Recognition Technology: From Law Enforcement to Facebook

Computer-based facial recognition systems can scan a digital image such as photograph or a single frame from a video to identify the facial features of the subject from a predetermined database of facial images. Facial recognition systems are being touted as an important tool for law enforcement and security specialists in the investigation and deterrence of criminal and terrorist activities, but the technology has other uses as well.

Google has shown more than a passing interest in the technology behind facial recognition when it acquired Viewdle. Speculation surrounding the purchase of the Ukrainian company by Google’s Motorola Mobility in 2012 focused on the imaging and gesturing recognition technology developed by Viewdle with applications for mobile phones.

Kaleil Isaza Tuzman saw the promise in the Viewdle technology when KIT Capital acquired an interest in the company. The facial and gesture recognition capabilities developed by Viewdle have applications to social media, such as the automatic tagging of photos of friends, and other uses where recognition of smiles, gestures and age can assist in the process of image identification.

At least one company, Face.com, is testing a Facebook application that uses facial recognition software to automatically tag photos. The company claims its application has tagged more than 700,000 faces in 400 million photographs.

The social media use of facial recognition systems has its detractors. Google is reported to be developing a mobile application that will allow users to access the Google contact information of a person merely by snapping a picture. The technology employs facial recognition software to match the image in the photo with Google’s database. Privacy concerns have developers looking at safeguards that can make the system functional while still protecting those who wish to opt out of it.

PayPal recently launched a system where buyers can shop at local retail outlets and pay using their cell phones to complete the payment portion of the transaction. A photo identifying the shopper appears on the person’s cell phone. The store clerk clicks on the photo to verify the buyer’s identity and complete the sale.

A company in Helsinki, Finland is taking facial recognition a step further than the PayPal system. Using facial recognition technology, the Finnish company uses a system that allows a buyer to pay by credit by looking into a camera. The camera is part of a facial recognition system that completes the transaction when the buyer is matched against an image in the system’s database.

Investors such as KIT Capital and its founder, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, saw the importance of facial recognition technology for commercial uses. Today, massive amounts of money are being invested by the federal government into the development of systems that have military and law enforcement applications. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has started implementation of a nationwide facial recognition system that draws upon DNA records in addition to mug shots and other photo databases to identify individuals from photo or video images.

The FBI system is reported to have cost $1 billion to develop. The system is reported to have a 92 percent accuracy rate with identification coming in less than two seconds in field tests. When used in locations where the facial image is clear and well lit, the accuracy rate increases to almost 100 percent.

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