Facebook has started testing technology that will recognise your friends’ faces and tag them automatically.
This will save regular Facebookers a lot of time and effort, since currently each photograph has to be tagged individually.
And about time too – facial recognition is core to the Apple application iPhoto (iLife ’09 edition) and even to some digital cameras.
The idea is simple – the software uses geometric measurements to spot human faces. It asks you to identify the first face it sees. In subsequent photographs, it looks for geometric similarities between the faces it sees and the database, automatically labelling the people it knows and querying the identity of ‘new’ people.
The reality is a little more complicated – straight-on faces are almost always recognised, but profiles, screwed-up expressions, sunglasses and wide-framed glasses can confuse the software. Some people aren’t ever identified. Face recognition takes a guess at pixellated people in the distance. It sails through people in a run of very similar shots, although most of us are more restrained when adding photographs to Facebook than to upload lots of similar pictures. A crowded room could present difficulties, since the software may ask you to identify everyone or even impose your friends’ identities for people you don’t know.
Sometimes the software will label you as someone else and someone else as you. And in Facebook’s social space, this means they will also be notified, making you look a bit stupid.
Of course, the biggest downside is that users will ultimately have less choice about which friends are tagged in which photographs. Currently, unflattering photos can be left deliberately untagged (or partially tagged in the case of group shots). If the photographer has less choice in this regard, then we’ll all need to be keeping a closer eye on Facebook’s photo albums in the future.
It’s all great news if you’re an attractive socialite, bad news if you don’t photograph well and will certainly annoy you if you have ‘one of those faces’.