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Yes, RealNetworks still exists, and now it’s selling face surveillance

The company best known for its early streaming media technology is continuing its push into facial recognition software.

Yes, RealNetworks still exists, and now it’s selling face surveillance
[Photo: Rob Curran/Unsplash]

Organizations looking to integrate facial recognition with their existing security camera technology can now turn to a company perhaps best known for its early video streaming tools: RealNetworks.

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The company announced Tuesday at the ISC West security conference in Las Vegas that its SAFR facial recognition system can now be integrated with popular video management systems used to store and monitor surveillance camera footage. That can help security personnel in office buildings, hospitals, stadiums, and other big institutions get notifications when people banned from facilities show up on camera or when unauthorized people pop up in restricted areas, says Mike Vance, senior director of product management at RealNetworks.

“Facial recognition really solves one of the big issues with security guards, which is that they just can’t make use of all the cameras and monitors in real time,” he says.

The technology can also tag and bookmark where people appear in archived footage and allow authorized people to unlock doors using only their faces, without the need to carry physical keys or access cards. It can also estimate the ages, genders, and emotional sentiment of people in a facility, Vance says.

“It’s been a challenge to maintain awareness of who is present at Shelby American, whether those are specific individuals of concern or aggregate demographics of museum visitors,” said Richard Sparkman, director of technology, fleet, and facilities at the Shelby American car museum in Las Vegas, in a statement. “SAFR for Security makes it simple to maintain higher security in public and restricted areas in our facility and helps us understand who is moving through our museum by age, gender, and time of day—allowing us to better tailor our museum experience.”

Vance says the SAFR technology, which uses less bandwidth and computing power than some competing facial recognition tools, evolved from the company’s years of expertise processing images and video for products like the once-ubiquitous RealPlayer streaming media player and RealTimes, which processes personal photos and videos and includes facial detection features. (In January, RealNetworks doubled its stake in Rhapsody International, effectively making the company the owner of legendary streaming music service Napster.)

The SAFR software—designed to identify faces in real-world conditions, including people in motion, in dim lighting, and at occluded angles—can “reliably match against millions of faces in under a second,” the company says.

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The new system will support video management systems from companies including Genetec, Milestone Digifort, and IPConfigure, according to RealNetworks.

Last year, RealNetworks announced it was making SAFR technology available free for schools. Since then, dozens of schools have signed up, often using the tool to detect unauthorized adults, like noncustodial parents, showing up in school buildings, Vance says.

Some schools see facial recognition tools as a natural way to beef up security, but the technology hasn’t been without controversy: The New York Civil Liberties Union wrote to New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia last year warning that face recognition technology could “criminalize ordinary child misbehavior and personal interactions,” particularly among people of color, who are often disproportionately misidentified by facial recognition systems and treated disproportionately harshly by schools and police.

Civil libertarians have expressed similar reservations about other use of facial recognition, including at facilities like airports and stadiums.

A number of state legislatures have also begun efforts to limit the technology, with proposals that require notices be posted in public places where facial recognition is in use. A bill proposed last month in Congress would obligate U.S. companies to obtain explicit consent from people before collecting their facial recognition data, and limit companies from freely sharing that data with third parties.

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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