Facebook buys facial recognition firm

June 19, 2012

Facebook buys facial recognition firmFacebook has bought up a company named Face.com. It’s not an attempt to get hold of a similar domain name, but rather a buyout to get control of the company’s facial recognition technology.

The world of tech buyouts is a mysterious place, with prices depending as much on luck and timing (and whether Mark Zuckerberg is in a mad buying spree) as what you have to sell. So while Instagram got a billion bucks for a sepia filter, Face.com reportedly has to settle for a “mere” $100 million for its more technically impressive capabilities. The two sides haven’t confirmed the price publicly.

The company describes itself as “the leading face recognition platform” and puts a particular emphasis on determining whose face is whose in crappy online photos where the lighting and focus sucks. It even claims it can identify people wearing some Hallowe’en costumes.

The key to the firm’s appeal is that it makes the technology available in a way that’s easy to integrate into other services. For example, there’s already an application that uses Face.com’s technology to search Twitter images for photos of a specific celebrity, whether posed or paparazzi.

Facial recognition has usually been more desired by hardware firms to use as a security feature. Indeed, Windows 8 looks set have the capability to set up a log-in screen that uses a webcam to recognize faces and figure out which user account to switch to.

In Facebook’s case, however, it appears most likely the firm will use its new purchase to improve an existing feature: automatically tagging people in photographs rather than users having to go through each picture individually and confirming who is who. Face.com already offers a Facebook application that makes it easier for users to auto-tag pictures.

In other words, the deal is great news for people working their way through photos of weddings and other large friends and family gatherings. For people whose Facebook friends insist on taking and uploading pictures of embarrassing situations, however, it could mean a lot more time figuring out how to tweak their privacy settings.

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