Imagine shopping for underwear in Walmart and some stranger with an Android-based smartphone waltzes up and snaps a mugshot of your face. Now imagine that same picture immediately going through an Android app that will recognize your face and pull up every little detail about your life. Feel invaded yet? There's more to come.
The above scenario isn't fiction-- it's fact: Google is currently working on a facial recognition application for Android that provides personal information based on the image. The only catch to this possibly-intrusive software is that people must manually give permission for accessing their Google Profile. Don't have one yet? You still may not be safe.
Thursday a Google spokesperson said that the technology may not necessarily be rolled out solely in a stand-alone app, but possibly inserted into an update for a current application like Google's image search engine. At this point, there's no indication of when the facial recognition tech will arrive, but a place has been saved for the idea within Google's toolset over the last few years. In fact, Google already has the ability to associate pictures publicly available on Facebook, Flickr and other photo-sharing sites with a person's name.
So does that mean you need a Google Profile to be recognized? Doesn't sound like it. In fact, it may be a case where names and faces will be virtually married in Google's search engine. Anything else Google can acquire from a Google Profile page or other external sites would just be the proverbial icing on the cake.
For the moment, the only real object getting in the way of Goggle's facial recognition implementation is the possible backlash from privacy advocates. "We recognize that Google has to be extra careful when it comes to these [privacy] issues," Hartmut Neven, the Google engineering director for image-recognition development, told CNN in an exclusive interview. "Face recognition we will bring out once we have acceptable privacy models in place."
Neven, whose company Neven Vision was acquired by Google in 2006, also acknowledged that people are "rightfully scared" of facial recognition. "In particular, women say, 'Oh my God. Imagine this guy takes a picture of me in a bar, and then he knows my address just because somewhere on the Web there is an association of my address with my photo.' That's a scary thought. So I think there is merit in finding a good route that makes the power of this technology available in a good way."
Google-- who seemingly can't start off small and slowly build up a product-- actually wants to take the conservative approach. And based on its utter failure to launch Buzz correctly without revealing everyone's private details on the web, Google is understandably taking a cautious approach in introducing facial recognition.
"I think we are taking a sort of cautious route with this," the spokesman said. "It's a sensitive area, and it's kind of a subjective call on how you would do it."
To read the full interview, head over to CNN here.