A Russian app called FindFace is sparking privacy concerns as it's the first of a new wave of technologies that may bring an end to public anonymity. The concept of the app is very simple, you enter a photo of someone and the app tries to match the face with an online profile.
The tool works by comparing photographs to profile photos of Vkontakte, a social network that's extremely popular in Russia and the former Soviet Union. The social network has over 200 million accounts and FindFace is able to work out someone's identity with 70 percent reliability. When you present the app with a photo, it will give you the most likely match as well as 10 people it thinks look similar.
FindFace was created by 26-year-old Artem Kukharenko and 29-year-old Alexander Kabakov. What makes their technology unique is that they've developed an algorithm that can quickly perform searches in very big data sets. Kabakov claims the algorithm can search through a billion photographs in less than a second from a normal computer!
Since it's launch two months ago, FindFace has been downloaded over half a million times and processed close to 3 million searches. While the tool may help you to reconnect with lost acquaintances, it also has a lot of creepy or even sinister uses. For example, online vigilantes have already used the app to unmask the identity of female porn actors and harass them. Furthermore, others fear the tool could be used by authoritarian regimes to identify participants in street protests.
The algorithm may also be of use for dating sites, Kabakov says it's ideal if you want to find a man or a woman who looks like a certain movie star, or like your ex:
Kabakov says the app could revolutionise dating: “If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request.” The interaction doesn’t always have to involve the rather creepy opening gambit of clandestine street photography, he added: “It also looks for similar people. So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages.”
The technology holds great promise for law enforcement too, Kukharenko and Kabakov claim Russian police forces have managed to solve years-old cases using FindFace, and the duo is in the final stages of signing a contract with Moscow city government to work with the city's network of 150,000 CCTV cameras:
The pair claim they have been contacted by police in Russian regions, who told them they started loading suspect or witness photographs into FindFace and came up with results. “It’s nuts: there were cases that had seen no movement for years, and now they are being solved,” said Kabakov.
The startup is in the final stages of signing a contract with Moscow city government to work with the city’s network of 150,000 CCTV cameras. If a crime is committed, the mugshots of anyone in the area can be fed into the system and matched with photographs of wanted lists, court records, and even social networks.