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Face.com opens its face recognition tech to devs

This means social photo tools around the Web can help you figure out who the people are in your photos, no matter where they're hosted.

The facial recognition technology that powers Face.com is now available to third-party developers. Those who are interested in using it inside of their applications will be able to take advantage of an open API that the company is making public Monday morning.

For consumers, Face.com's technology brings some very interesting things to the table. Face has already offered a tagging tool, as well as a recognition-based alert service for Facebook. But not everyone keeps their photos there. Using the new API, developers could build similar facial recognition tools into both desktop and Web based photo organizing apps that pull from online photo hosts.

The Face API will also pool together its index of tags, meaning that if it recognizes your face from use in one app, it can recognize it another. There are some very clear privacy issues here, but opening up a tool like this to a wider set of data and applications can make for some very neat applications. Say, for instance, you wanted to ID someone you met at a party, but never got their name. Being able to run it through Face's system could help solve that problem, and even link you up with that person's social-networking profile. Another company, Comverse, has done this using Face's technology, and the results are quite cool.

One of Face.com's API examples shows off how good it is at finding faces. In this case, it's the cast of the TV show 'Firefly.' Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn / CNET

But before you get all excited (or terrified) about getting the kind of wide scale facial recognition processing that Face.com has been offering free of charge to Facebook users, it might not be like that for the creations made by small time developers. The open API has one big limitation, which is that developers can only get 200 photos processed through Face's servers per hour. Any more than that, and the developers will have to work out a licensing agreement with the company. On the plus side, Face is offering developers a way to keep these jobs limited by user account, so tools that make use of it could just split up larger jobs into smaller batches of photos.

Face is launching the API without any partners, but has some neat examples of how the technology can be used. We're certainly looking forward to seeing what developers come up with.

See also: Facial recognition face-off: Three tools compared