Google Could Boost Google+ With PittPatt Facial Recognition

Google acquired PittPatt, whose facial recognition software can be used in anything from the Google+ social network to object-tracking software for Android mobile devices.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) confirmed it has acquired facial recognition software specialist Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition (PittPatt), which was born from research at Carnegie Mellon University.

Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition (PittPatt), which makes facial recognition software that identifies users from images and video, was launched in 2004 by Henry Schneiderman, who performed his research both as a student and faculty member of the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute.

Facial recognition software can be an extremely sensitive topic, as Facebook learned in June when its social network users learned the company was using facial recognition to improve its photos product.

The PittPatt team explained in a note on its Website that it would use its computer vision technology and talent in applications that range from simple photo organization to complex video and mobile applications at Google.

"At Google, computer vision technology is already at the core of many existing products (such as Image Search, YouTube, Picasa, and Goggles), so it's a natural fit to join Google and bring the benefits of our research and technology to a wider audience," the PittPatt team wrote.

However, a Google spokesperson declined to say in what capacity the company would use PittPatt's software or talent to bolster specific Web services.

"The Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition team has developed innovative technology in the area of pattern recognition and computer vision," the Google spokesperson told eWEEK. "We think their research and technology can benefit our users in many ways, and we look forward to working with them."

With Google+ doing so well, it has to be tempting for Google to use PittPatt to boost tagging in its new Google+ social network, especially after Facebook has used facial recognition to improve tagging in photos. Google could use PittPatt for the same purpose in Picasa, the + photo repository.

Of course, Google could also use PittPatt technology to improve facial recognition in its object-tracking for video chat via its Android operating system.

Google demonstrated rudimentary technology on this front at Google I/O in May. Officials used software to instruct a tablet computer Webcam to follow a video chat user's head movements and switch to whomever is speaking during a video conference.

Google has facial recognition capabilities from its Google Goggles visual search product, but has refrained from using the technology given the sensitivity around user privacy.

Former Google CEO and current executive chairman Eric Schmidt has warned that Google would not apply facial recognition technology because of the privacy concerns. The Google spokesperson hammered home this sentiment:

"We've said that we won't add face recognition to our apps or product features unless we have strong privacy protections in place, and that's still the case."