Facebook Adds Face Detection to Photos, Recognition Next?

Facebook is testing a new technology it says will save its members lots of time and effort: face detection for easy cataloging of people that appear in pictures. It sounds neat, but is this going to turn into Facebook's next privacy nightmare?

Facebook's spin on the face-detection tech is pretty simple. In a blog post announcing the news, the site notes, "This might surprise you, but within the photos product most people spend their time uploading, browsing and tagging photos. As a result, we're working to improve your experience in each of those." Actually Facebook, it doesn't surprise us at all--and it shouldn't surprise you that people spend a lot of time browsing photos... when they're in the photos pages, nor that they spend time tagging the names of the people in those photos. Isn't friend-interaction what Facebook's all about?

Despite this odd intro, the new system does seem a breeze. Much like the face-detection algorithms used on some modern digital cameras, a face is automatically spotted in an image once it's uploaded to Facebook, and a box pops up prompting you to enter the Facebook name of the person in the photo. It seems much simpler than manually having to click on each and every face you want to tag.

But we suspect that face detection is merely the first step Facebook is making to simplify the process of cataloging your photos. The next step is likely to be automated face recognition. And that'll put the over-sharing cat among the privacy pigeons for sure. Because it's one thing to use, say, iPhoto's face recognition feature to group people together in your own private digital photo album at home, or even to self-tag your photo in a 1,300 megapixel photo of a 70,000-person crowd at Glastonbury music festival. But Facebook's recognition powers extend to 400 million active users with billions of photos. Soon, your name could pop up in photos you didn't even know existed (or, worse, photos you knew existed but believed were anonymous).

Giving Facebook that much power over your likeness may well be too much for anyone wary of the company's dodgy record on protecting privacy.

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