Facial recognition – ethics

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Former CEO Eric Schmidt made a big deal of facial recognition databases being the one technology that Google wouldn’t deploying as it is an ethical and privacy set too far. Face recognition is currently used in law enforcement situations from policing football matches to anti-terrorism detection and surveillance amongst crowds. Google does use a certain amount of face recognition technology in its Picasa photo-sharing application and has some patents on using facial recognition in a social network.

Developments in face recognition technology are apparently taking place at a rapidly increasing pace according Schmidt, which means that even if Google doesn’t roll something out, others will, Facebook being the likely favourite.

With geotagged images and video taken by smartphones, turning the world into a constantly surveiled system. There would be no privacy and few hiding places left. The idea of moving to a new town or city and reinventing yourself which young people do when they go to college or go and get their first job would fall at the first hurdle as your old life would be seamlessly sewn together to your new one online.

The risk goes up considerably when you have battered spouses who have ran away or are looking escape a stalker.

Google’s disinterest in face recognition could be seen as being more about dodging anti-trust regulations, particularly if this technology was merged with search. However once someone does it, Google will to be a reluctant but fast follower if it is to continue to compete in the online space, which probably explains why they bought PittPatt the other day and recently patented the use of facial recognition technology to pick famous people out of pictures (presumably to improve image search relevance). More related content can be found here.

More information online

One Counter To Schmidt’s Facial Recognition Claim | Stowe Boyd

Google Acquires Facial Recognition Software Company PittPatt | Techcrunch

Google warns against facial recognition database | The Telegraph

Google Thinks Facial Recognition Is Very, Very Bad. Except Maybe For Famous People | Gizmodo

Google debates face recognition technology | FT.com