Al Franken Isn’t Too Keen On Google Glass Face-Recognition App

I think I went on a date with Jane a few years back.

I think I went on a date with Jane a few years back.

Some people wouldn’t have a problem with you shooting photos and video of the people you pass as you stroll down the street sporting your Google Glass headgear. But if you could use a facial recognition app on that same device to glean personal information about complete strangers, it’s probably not going to be as warmly received.

That’s how Senator Al Franken of Minnesota felt after hearing about the development of an app called NameTag, which according to its makers “can spot a face using Google Glass’ camera, send it wirelessly to a server, compare it to millions of records and in seconds return a match complete with a name, additional photos and social media profiles,” including online dating sites like OKcupid, PlentyOfFish, and Match.com.

Google currently forbids such facial recognition apps on Glass, but NameTag could run on a jailbroken device that has been tweaked to work around Google’s restrictions.

Feeling that this app may cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed, Sen. Franken sent a letter this week to the makers of NameTag

The senator, who is also Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, says that NameTag’s facial recognition technology, which does not require the knowledge or permission of its subject, “crosses a bright line for privacy and personal safety.

“I urge you to delay this app’s launch until best practices for facial recognition technology are established,” he continues. “At a minimum, NameTag should only identify people who have given the app permission to do so.”

Franken says there is a specific need to sort out privacy issues surrounding facial recognition software.

“Unlike other biometric identifiers such as iris scans and fingerprints, facial recognition is designed to operate at a distance, without the knowledge or consent of the person being identified,” he explains. “Individuals cannot reasonably prevent themselves from being identified by cameras that could be anywhere — on a lamppost across the street, attached to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or, now, integrated into the eyewear of a stranger.”

To the makers of NameTag, Franken writes, “Your company has a duty to act as a responsible corporate citizen in deploying this technology, which must be done in a manner that respects and protects individual privacy… I urge you to limit the app’s facial recognition feature to only those individuals who have given their affirmative consent. Such an opt-in feature is a well-recognized best practice for mobile apps, but it is unclear whether NameTag will be opt-in.”

He also expressed concerns about an app like NameTag being a juicy target for hackers.

“This vulnerability was underscored two years ago when Face.com, a company that was later acquired by Facebook, released the first commercial grade facial recognition program for public use,” recalls Franken. “Although the program was designed to only identify the customer’s Facebook friends, it was quickly hacked so that it could potentially be used to identify total strangers.”

The senator provided the developers with a list of questions to which he’d like a response, including:

• Will NameTag be an opt-in program?

• How are you addressing concerns that NameTag could be used by stalkers or other bad actors to jeopardize personal safety?

• Which facial recognition database does NameTag use to identify faceprints? Is it owned by your company? If not, who owns the database?

• Does NameTag use any Facebook photos, including public profile photos, to help identify individuals? What other websites are used?

• How do you plan to address Google’s prohibition on facial recognition Glassware?

Here is a demo of the app from its makers:

[via TheVerge]

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  1. IMakeMyOwnSnarkAtHome says:

    Sorry Al, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public. Same reason you can photograph and video anywhere in public. If the govt gets involved in this, it could lead to the death of photography rights.

    • ResNullum says:

      His problem isn’t with photographing people, it’s with the easy access to background data.

      • IMakeMyOwnSnarkAtHome says:

        And that information is all public, put on the internet by the person themself. The easy way to opt out of this system is to not flaunt personal information all across the internet, not make photography laws more strict.

        • PhillyDom says:

          So all you need to do to avoid this electronic stalking is never leave your house and never go online? Got it.

  2. furiousd says:

    @IMakeMyOwnSnarkAtHome, exactly. Further, I work for an imaging research lab and one topic we considered pursuing was long-range iris recognition. Under his claim, does the enhanced technology suddenly make it off the table and the definition of ‘public privacy’ change? No, if you don’t like it there are ways to enhance your privacy while traveling in public, but you do not have ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ walking on the street like you do at home, in the locker room, etc.

  3. craftman1 says:

    So I’m not a privacy snob/nut/whatever, but this has great comedic value coming from a man who works for the same government that asserts its right to monitor anything and everything it can get its hands on with no consent or probable cause.