It had to happen: Google Glass begets facial recognition apps.

Google Glass wearerWell, that didn’t take long:  Now that Google Glass devices have started to be worn by more than just the first few early adopters, a new facial recognition app has promptly been developed.

It’s an app that enables users to snap a photo of someone, and then search the Internet for more information about the image – essentially, to identify the person by name.

Of course, Google has always maintained that such activities are an inappropriate use of Google Glass devices.  But that hasn’t stopped an outside app developer from doing just that.

The app is called NameTag, and it was introduced in late 2013 by a developer group known as FacialNetwork.  In December, the developer uploaded a video showing how NameTag works.  You can view it on YouTube here — and note that it’s quite controversial with more “dislikes” than “likes” from voters; how often does that happen?

Basically, the Google Glass wearer snaps a picture and the app runs the photo through a database containing ~2.5 million facial images.  If a match is found, it returns that finding along with the name and profile associated with the facial match (e.g., occupation, personal interests and relationship status).

According to the developers, NameTag can detect an image match even from behind obstructions like glasses and a hat.

What does FacialNetwork see as the benefit of its new NameTag app?  The developer touts the potential for dating and relationship-building.  On its website, the following scenario is presented:

“Jane has lots of different social media profiles and loves to meet new people.  By using NameTag, she can link all her social networks to her face and share her information, and meet new people in an instant.”

Personal privacy concernsRight. 

… And I’m sure “Jane” doesn’t worry one bit about the “creepiness” factor of someone learning her name and her personal information before she’s even aware of it …

As if pre-anticipating all of the hackles, NameTag quickly goes on to explain that people can choose whether to have their name and profile information displayed to others.

As entrepreneur and NameTag’s co-creator Kevin Tussy notes, “It’s not about invading anyone’s privacy; it’s about connecting people that [sic] want to be connected … We will even allow users to have one profile that is seen during business hours, and another that is only seen in social situations.”

If all of this sounds like it’ll be a tad more difficult to carry out in real life than it sounds like in theory – that you’re not fully comfortable “assuming” an app like this will actually offer the proper degree of safeguarding – I’m sure you’re not alone in your concerns.

In fact, some people aren’t waiting around to see what “might” happen, but are moving now to take preemptive action.  Certain congresspeople are in on the action.  And consumer advocacy group Public Citizen notes that Google Glass users in certain states could potentially face criminal prosecution in addition to civil penalties for recording people without their knowledge or consent.

Up to now, no one has faced such legal action – but that could be because the technology remains so new that few people are actually using Google Glass devices at this point.

The question is this:  Are people giving their “implicit consent” to be recorded just by talking with someone who’s wearing the device?  (The devices are fairly distinctive looking, after all.)

The answer may lie in whether the person even knows what Google Glass devices are.  One person speaking to another automatically means they know they’re being recorded seems to assume too much – at least at this relatively early stage in the product adoption cycle.

Things remain murky at this point because we’re still in an emerging phase in the application of the technology.  But one thing that seems clear is that we haven’t yet seen the beginning of what promises to be an airing of “dueling rights” in this area of the law.

For those who may already be using Google Glass (I’m not one, by the way), here’s your chance to share your perspectives with other readers here.

When Google Glass clashes with reality … watch out for shards.

Google Glass Groupies on the prowl.
Google Glass Groupies on the prowl.

Like self-driving cars, Google Glass devices – those intriguing contraptions that allow users to be “online connected” at all times – appear to be one of those innovations that spark a thousand “what if?” scenarios.

And it’s not at all clear what all the implications of Google Glass may be.  But we’re beginning to get some clues as to what’s in store for users.

For starters, Google Glass owners have been sternly warned against using them in locker rooms, movie theaters, casinos … and even restaurants.

And earlier this month, attorney Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, claimed that Google Glass wearers in some states could potentially face prosecution for recording people without their explicit consent.

Public Citizen logoIn a recent online column, Mr. Levy wrote:

“Many states require the consent of all parties in a conversation – at least, conversations not occurring in public situations – and provide both criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for participants.”

While such laws are on the books in just 12 states at the moment, collectively those jurisdictions represent more than a third of the American population (including the all-important states of California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois).

So far, there doesn’t appear to be any record of prosecutions pertaining to using a Google Glass device to record someone without his or her consent.  But since these devices are such a rarity yet, that seems hardly surprising.

Too, there’s the possibility that the courts will rule that people are giving the wearer of a Google Glass device implicit consent to record them.  However, there’s something to the notion that many people would be basically clueless about whether they’re being recorded because of their unfamiliarity with the device and the technology.

And as if that angle isn’t enough, now there’s a company (FacialNetwork) that has developed a real-time facial recognition app for Google Glass.   With this app, called NameTag, people can snap a photo and search for more information online about the image – all in one action.

With new technology like this, finding a mate (or just a good-time girl or guy) will never be the same again.

Nor will the inevitable charges of invasion of privacy or stalking that follow.

Of course, to hear how the folks at FacialNetwork characterize it, you’d never think there were any potential negative consequences.  Instead, it’s all sweetness and light.  As NameTag co-creator Kevin Tussy puts it:

“It’s not about invading anyone’s privacy; it’s about connecting people that want to be connected.  We will even allow users to have one profile that is seen during business hours, and another that is only seen in social situations.”

Whatever.

And now … let the legal wrangling begin.

Signs of the Times

Divine, aka Harris Glenn MilsteadIt absolutely had to happen.

Reports from Japan are that facial-recognition technology is now being incorporated into mall signage wherein the age and gender of passersby are discerned before displaying “demographic appropriate” advertisements to them as they walk by.

NEC, a multinational electronics firm, is experimenting with biometric technology. the ability to scan faces to detect gender and age within a range of 10 years. Not only is the technology being tested in mall signage, but also in vending machinery where “helpful suggestions” will be made to consumers based on their presumed age and gender.

And of course, Japan today means the U.S. tomorrow. In fact, other companies are already testing “gender-aware” technology for outdoor billboards and mall signage here in the United States. Intel has partnered with Microsoft in such an endeavor to design the Intel Intelligent Digital Signage Concept.

Joe Jensen, a manager at Intel’s Embedded Computing Division, sums it up like this: “As stores seek more competitive advantages over online retailers, digital signage has become a valuable technology for dispersing targeted and interactive content to shoppers.”

If gender-aware technology proves to be effective, does this mean that gin & tonics will be now offered to older consumers? At the end of a long day at the office, that could be a tantalizing option for businesspeople hitting Grand Central Station to catch the Long Island Railway home.

Or consider this picture: Legions of “Divine” impersonators (see above) descending upon malls or food kiosks, just to test how well the signage and vending machines can determine true age and gender!

Kidding aside, it’s really no surprise that digital technology with its ability to serve highly targeted, relevant content would eventually work its way into billboards and signage, historically the most “mass” of mass communications. Marketers crave statistical results, and they’re naturally going to gravitate to anything that provides those metrics – no matter how imprecise they might be.