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Last month, Facebook was forced to apologize to users after introducing a feature that uses facial recognition to suggest which of your friends appear in a photo, to speed up the process of tagging them. This is nearly identical to a Facebook app previously released by Face.com, although Hirsch declined to comment when asked if his company had supplied the  technology behind Facebook’s facial recognition.

Google also has sophisticated facial recognition software, but it has been careful to say it does not use it in the mobile app Google Goggles, which identifies objects snapped with a phone’s camera, or the recently launched Search by Image service.

Kelly Gates, a professor at University of California, San Diego, whose recent book examines how facial recognition technology is being developed, adopted, and understood, says concerns over the technology are largely due to an association with security and surveillance. Combined with the fact the technology interfaces with a very personal part of the body, “that means it is easy to write scary headlines about,” says Gates.

However facial recognition has clear benefits in a world of online socializing. “It seems that there is a need for technology that can help with that,” Gates says. “Now we are habituated to things like photo tagging it starts to seem attractive to automate it.” Gates thinks the usefulness of services like Face.com’s will be enough for most people to eventually accept facial recognition, just as they’ve accepted other technologies that initially caused privacy fears.

Hirsch argues that there has already been a shift in attitudes toward facial recognition. The technology has been accepted in desktop software for organizing photos from both Apple and Google, he points out. The key is to make sure that people feel in control of the technology, he says. For example, Face.com’s service can connect with Facebook to find your friends in a photo, but it will ask permission to access Facebook data and abides by a user’s privacy settings. As the technology appears in more places, people will warm to the notion of services that recognize them and their friends, says Hirsch.

Gates says that technology that recognizes moods or expressions is much less mature, and less accurate, than that which recognizes faces and applications for it are still unclear. Face.com’s mood recognition technology likely works best with posed expressions rather than natural ones, she adds, but that could still be useful: “It’s like emoticons, in that these are very simplistic expressions of emotions, but they can serve a purpose to communicate something.”

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Credit: Face.com

Tagged: Computing, startups, face recognition, facial expressions, Face.com, face tracking

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