Google reportedly developing facial recognition smartphone technology

As news of the planned app feature broke, however, it flew straight into a storm of protest over privacy issues, resulting in Google initially claiming that the CNN report was incorrect, then apparently backtracking on that assertion.

According to the Electronista newswire, Google's image recognition director Harmat Neven said that the app could be a variant on the Google Goggles app and would act like a personal business card.

This would, he said, also show photos from Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and other sites attached to an account.

"Privacy was a top priority, he said, though he didn't elaborate completely on how this would work. It would be opt-in, he said, preventing users from unwittingly being stalked or targeted. Testers had to grant explicit consent to have their photos taken", says the newswire.

It also appears that the app is being developed for both the Android and Apple iPhone platforms, drawing on technology seen in Google's Picasa software.

As news of the planned app spread, Google flew into a storm of protest over the privacy implications of smartphone users being able to auto-identify others based on their facial biometrics, causing Google to claim that "most of the article came from 'inventions of the reporter'."

CNN then waded into the argument, claiming that the Google correction was a "carefully-worded ruse", said the Electronista newswire.

Google then reportedly partly backtracked from its earlier view and said that there were factual elements in the story, although there may have been some confusion over the apps involved.

Brushing aside the semantics between CNN and Google, Infosecurity notes that it appears that Google has the required technology to add automated facial recognition to its smartphone software, but the privacy implications are immense.

This is because – in theory at least – it would be possible to cross-link an image taken by the smartphone camera, or from an anonymous picture on the web, and then using CSI-style facial recognition techniques to auto-search for someone's identity on the internet.

Since this has potentially serious privacy implications, it is no surprise that Google has been seeking to clarify what Neven reportedly told CNN.

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