Here’s a great way to seem totally not creepy to a person you find attractive: The next time some guy or gal catches your eye on the subway, don’t say hi. Instead, snap a picture of them and upload it to a facial recognition app and find out exactly who they are and where they live and what they like to eat for breakfast before reaching out to the person. (Who, remember now, has no idea who you are! Fun!)
This is just one way to use FindFace, a Russian facial recognition app that uses VKontakte (think Russian/former USSR Facebook with 200,000,000 active accounts) as an image data base by running profile pictures against submitted images. The app’s founders boast that it is 70 percent accurate and, in just two months, has grown to include 500,000 users, The Guardian reports. The Moscow government is currently closing a deal with FindFace to use the program to support the city’s existing security camera system.
FindFace can also be used to find people who look like other people you might be interested in. “So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages,” FindFace co-founder Alexander Kabakov told The Guardian. (If you used FindFace on me right now, the first match would be 🤔, the skeptical emoji.)
Of course, facial recognition technology, and the potential for controversy surrounding it, isn’t anything new. Facebook’s ability to recognize and tag your friends in photos has gotten astoundingly good in recent years, and the company has run into issues for storing “faceprints,” or data based on users’ faces. (It’s worth noting here that FindFace’s founders say that their software does not work with Facebook.) And, for years, the NSA has been collecting “millions” of selfies from the web to improve its facial-recognition databases.
But there’s something about this particular nexus of surveillance state and social media that feels like a bridge too far, or even farther. Perhaps it’s the way FindFace is being marketed as a dating (read: stalking) app and is readily accessible to anybody with a smartphone. Or that its only been around for two months and has already been used by “online vigilantes to uncover the social media profiles of female porn actors and harass them.”