Facial recognition comes to Facebook photo tags

New technology in Facebook Photos will suggest which of a user's friends may be in a just-uploaded photo, the first time facial recognition technology has been incorporated into Facebook's consumer service.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
The 'suggested tags' interface that appears on Facebook when a user uploads photos. Facebook

Taking yet another step in the ongoing process of upgrading its photo-sharing service, Facebook announced today that it will soon enable facial-recognition technology--meaning that when members upload photographs and are encouraged to "tag" their friends, they will be able to choose from a list of suggestions.

Thanks to its treasure trove of user photos that have already been tagged, not to mention personal profile photos, Facebook has built up a huge base of data for gauging exactly who's in what photo. There are now 100 million photo uploads per day, according to Facebook, and 100 million "tags" each day as well. Tagging is also a hallmark of Facebook's photo product, which was otherwise bare-bones, difficult to use, and lagged behind competitors at its launch. Being able to annotate each photo with friends' names was largely what propelled Facebook Photos forward.

"Tagging is actually really important for control, because every time a tag is created it means that there was a photo of you on the Internet that you didn't know about," Facebook Vice President of Product Chris Cox told CNET. "Once you know that, you can remove the tag, or you can promote it to your friends, or you can write the person and say, 'I'm not that psyched about this photo.'"

The facial recognition technology has been developed in part by Facebook and in part through licensed technology. (Cox declined to name the companies involved.) It'll start rolling out to about 5 percent of Facebook's U.S. users next week. "Assuming that goes well, we'll just continue to roll it out," Cox said.

The revamp of the once low-end photo-sharing product has been going on in full force since the spring, when the company acquired a photo-sharing start-up called Divvyshot and put founder Sam Odio in charge of the engineers developing Facebook Photos.

"We wanted to make our Photos product not suck," Cox said. This fall, the company unveiled a new interface and "bulk tagging." The addition of facial recognition is another step in that overhaul, he said.

Of course, there will be someone out there who cries foul with regard to how Facebook handles users' personal information or wonders whether this is a sign that Facebook knows too much about us all. Cox explained that there will be an opt-out for the new feature so that if a member does not want to show up in his or her friends' tagging suggestions, they won't.