Face.com has been used to tag over 25 billion faces in over 7 billion photos since launching in late 2007. Facebook users had been using the Face.com facial recognition app to tag friends in photos for two years before Facebook stepped on the Israel-based company’s toes by making facial recognition a default feature for photo tagging this year.
Face.com has a nice head start as interest in facial recognition technology heats up. Photo-sites like Picasa and Facebook are making it widely available commercially for easy people-tagging; bars will be using it so that you can check out the gender ratio at your favorite watering holes via smartphone before deciding where to go; digital billboards are using it to target passersby with relevant advertising; and over 40 police stations around the country are adopting an iPhone tool, MORIS, that will allow them to identify criminal suspects with a face scan.
CEO Gil Hirsch, 37, says he isn’t worried about Facebook making his app irrelevant. “Our technology is better,” he says. Plus the social networking site is not the company’s only outlet. They offer a facial recognition technology API that over 20,000 developers are using for their own projects, such as FindYourFaceMate.com, an online dating site with the narcissistic premise that we get along best with people who resemble us. The site matches you with doppelgangers of the sex you’re interested in.
The technology can also be useful for detecting gender or mood or if there’s a face there at all. “One Chatroulette-like client uses it to make sure that there is a face video-chatting and not a….,” Hirsh trails off. “Not a non-face?” I offer delicately, knowing about Chatroulette’s popularity among men who like the idea of anonymous indecent exposure via webcam. “Exactly,” he says.
The key usage, though, still tends to be identity. The company offers “safe alerts” to let users know when new photos of them appear on a given site. “Like Google alerts for your face,” says Hirsch. At this point, the alert is reserved for a contained site like Facebook, rather than the Internet at large – in part for privacy reasons. You probably wouldn’t want someone else setting up a Google alert for your face; on a site like Facebook, the company knows you are who you say you are and limits searches to photos that have been shared with you by contacts within your social network.
The idea for Face.com bubbled up out of meetings of the “Garage Geeks,” an Israeli group of over 3500 tech enthusiasts. They raised money from angel investors and secured a $4.3 million round of venture funding in September 2010.
“This is just the beginning,” says Hirsch. “You’re going to see facial recognition being used in more and more places.”