Face.com finds friends' mugs on Facebook (alpha invites!)

The company's Photo Finder application recognizes your contacts' faces among photos on the social network, letting you tag them and track new photo arrivals.

Photo Finder finds contacts photos and suggests names for them when it thinks it knows the correct identity.
Photo Finder finds contacts photos and suggests names for them when it thinks it knows the correct identity. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Start-up Face.com announced a Facebook application on Tuesday called Photo Finder that can identify your contacts' faces--and your own--on the social-networking site.

The software analyzes photos among your contacts, suggesting tags for faces it recognizes and monitoring new uploads for more. The software presents an array of your contacts' photos, letting you accept or reject suggested names for the people the application has identified.

In my not-so-extensive testing, I found that the face recognition technology really does make it easier to discover photos of people you know. It surfaced dozens of untagged pictures among my network of contacts, all with the correct name suggested.

We have 100 invitations for the application, which is in alpha testing. Click here if you want one--first come, first served.

Since those photographed were generally shown in their own photo galleries, it wouldn't have been tough for to find them on my own, but the application was more useful in uncovering unknown images when dealing with people posted on others' photo galleries. I didn't try it long enough to see how well it spotted photos of me showing up in others' photos, which strikes me as one use case in which people would be particularly interested.

Face recognition in photos can be a powerful tool because it means computers can know people's identities. That photo metadata is information that computers can process, for example, when supplying search results. Apple built face recognition into its newest version of iPhoto , and Google has the technology in its Picasa Web Albums site for photo sharing.

Not integrated with Facebook
One key point, though: the identification tags that Photo Finder supplies are visible only through the application. They aren't integrated with Facebook's tag system, so the implications and actions you take through Photo Finder are limited only to that application.

Photo Finder presents photos with suggested tags at the top and known tags at the bottom for each contact.
Photo Finder presents photos with suggested tags at the top and known tags at the bottom for each contact. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

"Tags in Photo Finder will not persist in Facebook's main photo application. Tags assigned in Photo Finder can be rejected by the tagee, if they also use Photo Finder," the company said.

Face.com leaves privacy matters of Photo Finder up to Facebook itself. "Photo Finder has nothing to do with privacy. It scans photos that have already been shared with you. We respect the privacy settings set up by Facebook, so you don't have to manage privacy in two different places," the company said.

But in practice, Photo Finder does reveal just how publicly you're sharing your photos, and widespread use of the technology will make it easier for others to find images of specific people among their network of contacts.

When I told one contact of mine I'd just tagged her in a bunch of photos a computer just found, she wrote back to me, "I'll admit it freaks me out a bit. There has always been something about Facebook or social networking that sits on the hairy edge of a bad idea. This doesn't seem to help the cause. (It) does cause me to think again about what I post. I am probably not a poster child of best judgment."

Promising but clunky
Overall, I found the technology promising but a bit clunky. It might have worked better, if I only used Facebook to keep track of a handful of close friends and family members, but instead, Photo Finder presented me with 38 pages of friends for me to sift through to identify. It spotlighted one facet of the conundrum of personal vs. professional use of social-networking sites: I have a lot of professional contacts whose smiling-with-friends in-the-restaurant and holding-the-cute-baby photos I don't really care about.

Because you can set up watch lists for friends you care about, notifying you of future uploads of photos of people you do care about, keeping on top of new additions likely would be easier to manage. And, of course, you can cut to the chase by typing in the names of specific people you care about. They have to have their permissions set to allow you to tag their photos, though, for the application to work.

What about making money out of the technology? The Israeli-based start-up is cagey for now.

"At the moment, the focus is on launching the technology and making sure that it scales well at (the) Web level," the company said in a statement. But Face.com does have aspirations beyond a Facebook application.

"Face.com is the company behind this technology. That's a pretty premium domain, and likely, it will be the host for other uses of their facial-recognition software," the company said. Face.com is "starting with Photo Finder, a facial-recognition and discovery app for Facebook. This facial recognition is highly accurate, efficient, and built for the Web; it's able to scan through millions of photos and correctly identify faces at high speed, with a high level of accuracy."

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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