Facebook has announced intentions to acquire Face.com, a company out of Israel that the social networking giant has been working with for about two years to help identify and tag people in photos.
The acquisition speaks to Facebook’s insistence on even more photo sharing on its site, which has long been part of the company’s mission statement directed at a more “open” world. This also supplies a fresh round of privacy concerns, of course, as the website’s encroachment into the lives of users (and non-users) becomes overbearing.
“Today, facial recognition for Facebook is about photographs. But future uses of this technology could absolutely extend to recognizing people in the real world,” said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. “Facebook is becoming a search engine for people. It’s building a catalogue of humans, and today that’s a two dimensional experience. Tomorrow it will take place in the physical world.”
Suggesting that Facebook is constructing a “catalogue of humans” is chilling but accurate, as the entire purpose of the “free” social networking site from a business standpoint is to sell its products. Its products, incidentally, are its users.
Facebook has not yet specified how it’ll be using Face.com’s technology and employee base into its operations, but it’s not much of a stretch to suggest it’ll be more of the same. The tech from Face.com has been available on Facebook for its users since 2010, so it’s not really “new” in that sense and probably won’t alter much by way of the day-to-day Facebook experience for the short-term.
Facebook knows the value of a tagged photo, though, and Face.com’s technology helps with that. A tagged photo is seen by more people and can therefore advertise the user to more people, generating more “information” and keeping users returning to the site to see who’s been tagged in what and what for.
The area that the acquisition of Face.com will benefit Facebook most is in the mobile arena, where tagging photos and uploading them is still somewhat of a laborious function. It’s expected that more technology will aid in streamlining the experience for mobile users, helping Facebook achieve more users from a variety of platforms and generating more vital site hits along the way. Throw some more advertising in the mix and Facebook gets to crack open another juicy revenue stream through its mobile users.
Another avenue that could be opened through what Face.com brings to the table is that of advertising. Along with tagging people, the software can be used to tag things (read: brands). In 2011, Facebook gave market-friendly users the option of tagging brands in their photographs. In other words, if someone was drinking a Pepsi in a particular photo, that person could tag the Pepsi as a Pepsi and help the cola giant advertise its product by way of an implied endorsement (word-of-mouth advertising) in the tagged photo.
There are some positive uses for Face.com’s technology, but the privacy implications are pretty significant as well. People in tagged photos who don’t necessarily want to be located or associated in a particular photograph can be exposed to public viewing without their permission. They can eventually “untag” themselves, but in many cases any potential damage could’ve already been done.
Scrutiny from privacy advocates and politicians has already fallen on Facebook’s plate over facial recognition. We can probably expect more of the same here, with the social networking giant’s latest acquisition once again solidifying its presence in the lives of its countless users.