/ surveillance

Facial Tracking Gets an App

No longer is facial tracking relegated to the realm of governments, retailers, or hackers. Russian startup FindFace marries facial recognition technology and public databases to create an app that can identifies of strangers with over 70% accuracy.

Scared yet?

In terms of functionality, the tool couldn't be more simple. Take a picture of a stranger, submit the photo, and the app will search through photos on VK (Eastern Europe's Facebook equivalent) to find the top matches. The neural net algorithm from NTechLab behind this tech is the same one that the won MegaFace with 73% accuracy. Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab performed a quick test in their office with a 90% accuracy rate.

The app, which pitches itself firmly as a tool to find the identity of hot strangers you pass is a stalker's dream. "If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request," co-founder Alexander Kabakov explains. The app homepage prominently displays three models and a proud endorsement from Maxim. See for yourself:

Very quickly it becomes clear just who the target audience of this app is.

It's very hard to think of instances where this tool isn't used to harass people with unwanted attention. No longer are you forced to merely harass people on the subway for a stop or two. Now you can take a photo, identify who they are (and probably where they live) and proceed to take your unwanted attention online or even to their home if you're feeling really daring. This is 21st century harassment and it only gets worse from there. Blackmail and tracking by individuals, companies, or authoritarian regimes (or any government really) are made far easier with the technology.

Corporations and businesses are already reaching out to license the technology. In particular casinos and law enforcement are especially interested with their massive CCTV networks providing the perfect base for gathering data for analysis. The founders have also expressed there willingness to work with Russia's FSB (the successor of the Soviet KGB) in deploying the tech.

Kabokov dismisses any privacy concerns with a cavalier "deal with it" attitude:

In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people’s movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that.

While he's correct that we live in a world where everything is recorded by devices (that shouldn't be doing so in the first place), to give into that and help the transformation along by selling tech to governments and corporations while simultaneously bringing street harassment into the 21st century seems more like embracing the problem.

Fact of the matter though is that this tech is coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it (at least while our current political, economic, and cultural systems stand). In the meantime, be careful about what pictures of you are posted online if you're concerned about this kind of abuse. While Facebook doesn't allow as open access to their photo data as VK does, Facebook does currently utilize their own internal facial database (suggest a friend feature) and has a history of complying with law enforcement (often above and beyond what they're asked to do). Naturally it's only a matter of time until similar tech (from Facebook, Snapchat, Google, or a new player) makes its way onto our phones.

I guess that means it's high time to bring our cyberpunk dystopia to life and start making anti-facial tracking fashion the in thing.

More information is available at The Guardian.

Photo by Thomas Hawk released under CC BY-NC