Facebook buys Face.com to improve mobile face recognition

Facebook buys Face.com to improve mobile face recognition

POSTED: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 7:30pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 7:34pm

Facebook really wants to know what you look like.

The social network this week acquired Face.com, a face-recognition technology company whose Facebook and mobile apps can identify people's faces in photos.

One of Face.com's apps, KLIK, aims to identify Facebook friends' faces on mobile-phone photos as they're taken.

"Fire up KLIK and watch as your friends' names instantly appear next to their faces before or after you snap a photo," the company says on its iTunes page for the app. "If KLIK doesn't recognize a face use the new 'Learn' mode to train and improve recognition."

Another app, PhotoTagger, works with Facebook to "auto-tag" faces in photo albums.

It's unclear exactly how Facebook plans to incorporate the technology and employees of Face.com, which it purchased for between $55 million and $100 million, according to news reports. (The exact terms of the deal haven't been disclosed.)

But Mike Isaac, a blogger at All Things D, says it's likely that Facebook wants to use the company's mobile experience to improve the face-detection technology on its smartphone and tablet apps.

"Currently, Facebook's tagging suggestion feature does not work for mobile devices as well as it does on desktops, so it's possible that Face.com could make it faster for mobile users to tag from their mobile uploads with less friction," he writes. "And that timing makes sense, considering that Facebook just recently launched Camera, a standalone photo app that makes it even easier for users to snap and upload photos to Facebook without going through the cumbersome -- and, frankly, rather clunky and slow -- iOS and Android applications."

In a post on the company's blog, Face.com CEO Gil Hirsch also indicates its products could help boost Facebook's mobile offerings.

"We love building products, and like our friends at Facebook, we think that mobile is a critical part of people's lives as they both create and consume content, and share content with their social graph," he writes. "By working with Facebook directly, and joining their team, we'll have more opportunities to build amazing products that will be employed by consumers -- that's all we've ever wanted to do."

Facebook issued the following statement to CNN in an e-mail:

"People who use Facebook enjoy sharing photos and memories with their friends, and Face.com's technology has helped to provide the best photo experience. This transaction simply brings a world-class team and a long-time technology vendor in house."

A company spokeswoman declined to comment further because the Face.com deal has not been closed.

All of this is important because Facebook is the most popular place on the Internet for photo sharing. According to the Silicon Valley-based company, people upload an average of 300 million photos to Facebook every day. That's nearly one for every person in the United States.

Facebook already employs face-detection technology to help (some might say prod) users to identify themselves and their friends in the photos they upload to the site. When friends tag each other in photos, they make it more likely that other people on the network will see the pictures.

But, for some Facebook users, the existing face-detection feature is either unwanted or unworkable.

"I try to time and time again (to use the feature), but Facebook always manages to claim I'm someone I'm not. The detection technology isn't quite there," wrote one Twitter user, @DanieljGross.

In response to @cnntech's query on the subject, another person wrote that Facebook's auto-tagging feature confuses their friends for their siblings.

"It's a bit scary to be honest," wrote another Twitter user, @earthtonadia.

Facebook gives users the option to turn off face detection. To do so, go to your privacy settings (click the arrow at the top right of the homepage to get there) and then edit your "Timeline and Tagging" settings. At the bottom of the list, Facebook asks, "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?" Change that setting to "No One" if you don't want to have your face detected.

Users also can choose to review the photos they're tagged in before the tags show up on Facebook.

Or, if you want to get funky, you could always wear bizzaro hats and makeup that prevent face-detection technology from working. For more on that, read about this project from CV Dazzle.

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