Google is not building a separate facial recognition application, but you can expect to see it as a Google Goggles feature. How soon is anyone's guess, as privacy details need to be worked out.
The blogosphere was set ablaze this week with the report
that Google was building a facial recognition application that would let users
take pictures of people and identify them within seconds.
The problem with the CNN report is that it isn't exactly
true, or at least not yet. The real story is more nuanced than that, sources
familiar with Google's thinking claim.
To rewind, CNN
reported March 31 that Google is working on a mobile application that would
allow users to identify users by snapping pictures of their faces with their
Hartmut Neven, the Google engineering director for image recognition
development, told CNN people would have to check a box agreeing to give Google
permission to access their pictures and profile information. This opt-in action
would be one way Google solves the inherent privacy question mark that comes with
such a program.
Tech bloggers read the report and ran with it, concluding
that Google would draw the ire of privacy advocates and regulators already
heated from Google's WiFi spying incident and Google Buzz snafu.
Google claimed it is not introducing a mobile app for
facial recognition, and argued that what the CNN article positioned as real
product and process was based on hypothetical scenarios of how such an instantiation
Some bloggers suggested that CNN reporter Mark Milian
blew coverage on the story. CNN stuck to its story, arguing that it has an
audio recording of the interview. Search Engine Land, one of the blogs that covered
CNN's initial story,
published this statement from CNN:
"Google's claims do not fit the facts of the
situation. This interview was prearranged - on the record - and staffed by a
Google PR rep, who raised no objections at the time and did not deny what the
engineer said. Additionally, we have an audio recording of the interview, as
does Google. We stand firmly behind Mark's reporting."
Google doesn't dispute this characterization, but sources
familiar with the situation told eWEEK what CNN failed to make clear is that
there isn't a new, specific facial recognition application in the works. Rather,
Google is looking how to make facial recognition a feature that would be
incorporated in Google Goggles.
CNN's article, Google believes, failed to make this clear
from the outset. What it sounds like is a classic failure to set the boundaries
in a meeting between reporter and subject. Onward and upward then.
Developed by Neven and now overseen by Google Product
Manager Shailesh Nalawadi, Goggles is the company's visual search application.
Goggles users can currently take pictures of book covers, wine bottles,
landmarks, paintings and a few other product categories and see search results
about those objects retrieved within seconds.
Goggles is the context in which facial recognition would
appear, but Google told eWEEK April 1: "As we've said for more than a
year, we will not add facial recognition to Goggles unless we have strong
privacy protections in place. We're still working on them. We have nothing to
announce at this time."