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Russian dating app gets turned on by facial recognition

FindFace has us wondering what the future holds for public anonymity.

Revellers enjoy themselves at the Wigstock festival, New York City, USA, August 1994. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)
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A facial recognition service in Russia is putting public anonymity at risk by letting people photograph strangers and identify them using an app.

Tapping into publicly available data from popular Russian social network Vkontakte, the app, called FindFace, claims to have a 70 percent success rate when it comes to identifying people.

FindFace has been in existence only since February, but popular awareness of it has flourished thanks to a widely publicized project by Russian photographer Egor Tsvetkov, called "Your face is big data," in which he used the app to ID people he'd photographed on the subway. FindFace now has 500,000 registered users and has processed nearly 3 million searches, according to its founders.

This level of intrusion will surely add to people's existing range of privacy concerns regarding facial recognition. Facebook, for instance, has come under fire for the potential storage of "Faceprint" data, which allows software to recognize members of the social network by their faces. But FindFace goes one or two intrusive steps beyond that.

FindFace markets itself as a dating service, but its founders hope to eventually make money from licensing its algorithm to law enforcement and retail companies. The company told the Guardian that it has already been contacted by Russian police about using the tech.

In the meantime, everyday people can download the app on an iPhone or Android device, or, using it through a Web browser, make up to 30 searches per month for free. When you spot someone you're interested in, you can simply take a photo and upload it to the app to find the person's Vkontakte profile, app co-founder Alexander Kabakov told the Guardian.

The app provides more than just a convoluted way to avoid flirting in person; it can also help you find a look-alike if pursuing your first-choice object of desire is just an impossible dream. "It also looks for similar people," Kabakov added. "So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages." Oh, the romance.

Security software company Kaspersky put the algorithm to the test in April and found that FindFace works as well as it claims to. When Kaspersky uploaded posed photos, the software correctly identified people 90 percent of the time. When Kaspersky uploaded photos taken sneakily in public, accuracy decreased.

Kaspersky issued several tips to Vkontakte users who don't want to be identified by strangers. The first is to make as many of your pictures as possible private and delete old photos from the profile pictures album. These are the photos FindFace scans to recognize you. The second, and perhaps less convenient, option is to trick the camera by wearing a hoodie or glasses with solid rings; pulling a funny face, or angling your face away from the camera.

FindFace did not immediately respond to a request for comment.