Facial Recognition Software Quickly IDs Facebook Photos


By Nancy Thornton

Someone lingers at a store window admiring its display. Their image is captured by a store webcam and, within three seconds, matches that face with tagged and profile photos on Facebook*. In moments the unwitting subject has been identified.

Recognition Results

A 2011 study by a Carnegie Mellon University researcher demonstrated a 31 percent success rate of matching a webcam photo to one of 25,000 photographs taken from students’ Facebook profiles. Participation was voluntary, so the webcam photo used to match was a well-staged, clear, front-facing image. Nonetheless, a 31 percent match rate is impressive with, on average, less than three seconds required for the result.

Technology In Action

Although the above test was conducted in a controlled environment, similar functionality has been developed and tested as an iPhone* mobile application. Anyone within the iPhone viewfinder becomes a potential target – capture a photo, second later, browse their Facebook page and scan their latest tweets.


Coming Soon?

Use of ‘public’ images is not without controversy. Many likely embrace such a technology to identify insurgents attempting to invade a U.S. military safe zone. But are we comfortable with the idea that a local police officer might capture our photo and find it tagged to a Facebook image friends took when rocking out at New Year’s Eve party?

At a software cost of $3,000 each, it isn’t likely that the MORIS iPhone application will be generally available anytime soon. And although Google* and others have similar technology available in their labs, the controversy surrounding its use will cause commercialization delays. In theory, such an application should require an ‘opt in’ feature when establishing profiles in services such as Facebook and Google. In practice, this technology could easily streamline access to personal data. Just think . . . you capture a photo of someone you are meeting for a blind date and, within seconds, find that their relationship status on Facebook is ‘In a relationship.’ Secret is out!

Classroom Discussion

  • If this technology were available as an iPhone application, would you download it, and why?
  • What are some of the positive and negative points of using this kind of technology?