Google Wants Your Face

Google wants to get in your face - literally.

As ComputerWorld blogger Darlene ("Security is Sexy") Storm reports, Google has filed for a patent in Europe on technology that could allow it to identify you by your photograph, using clues from social networks to verify your identity.

[ See also: Planning a break up? Don't do it on Facebook ]

The patent application describes how such a system might work:

After receiving the visual query with one or more facial images, the system identifies images that potentially match the respective facial image in accordance with visual similarity criteria. Then one or more persons associated with the potential images are identified. For each identified person, person-specific data comprising metrics of social connectivity to the requester are retrieved from a plurality of applications such as communications applications, social networking applications, calendar applications, and collaborative applications. An ordered list of persons is then generated by ranking the identified persons in accordance with at least metrics of visual similarity between the respective facial image and the potential image matches and with the social connection metrics. Finally, at least one person identifier from the list is sent to the requester.

If I am interpreting that patent-speak correctly, it means Google will first examine the visual characteristics of a photo to determine if it's a close match to the person you're searching for, then use social networks and other sites to narrow the search and improve its accuracy.

In other words, if you're searching for pictures of me a

Artwork: Chip Taylor
nd Google comes across some that look like that blurry sepia-toned snapshot floating above this post, it will then check Facebook, Linked In, Twitter et al to see if someone looking like me has profiles on those sites or if I've been tagged in images by people likely to be connected to me.

Google already does something similar to this via Google Goggles, which works on objects and buildings. Snap a photo of, say, a painting or a book or a cell phone, and Google will parse the visual data and find things that match. So, presumably, if you feed it your photo, it could conceivably figure out who you are and locate your Facebook profile, LinkedIn page, etc.

Are you creeped out yet? Cuz I am.

Imagine this scenario. You see a hot gal or guy at a café. Surreptitiously you snap a photo. Upload to Google, and voila - you now know everything there is to know about them. Call it Stalking 2.0.

Or worse. You're photographed at a political protest march by someone who works for a three-letter government agency. They upload the images to Google and presto -- your name and address are now in a government file. Next stop, Gitmo.

As Storm writes:

... how much easier will it be to identify dissidents when facial recognition software allows a government to conduct face searches and compare photographed faces with their databases or even the millions of photos stored on Facebook or other social networking sites?

So far, of course, this is all still speculation. None of this may come to pass. According to Information Week, Google has held back from implementing facial recognition because it wants to study the privacy implications first. But they're not the only ones working on using facial recognition to identify people. And the privacy implications are seemingly endless.

Once your face is fodder for public searches, will you ever be able to opt out? Will we give up our right to personal privacy merely by going out in public and being captured by a convenience store surveillance camera, or because somebody we barely know tagged us in a photo?

Whose face is it, anyway?

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan believes a picture is worth a thousand words unless it's of him, in which case it's worth about $2.37. Experience his less serious side at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

Subscribe to the Today in Tech Newsletter

Comments