Facebook’s Face Recognition Tagging Feature Signalling Photo Search?

Facebook is currently testing a new feature for pictures that allows automatic recognition of faces and subsequent faster tagging of photos, thanks to newly-acquired technology company Divvyshot. The company says it’s only the first of other new features for Facebook photo, including browsing and uploading. Let’s see the potential implications.

Easier Tagging
In a blog post, Facebook product manager, Sam Odio, said the social site is currently conducting limited tests of the new feature that should make tagging much easier. Wait. It’s not as nifty as it sounds – just yet. I personally don’t have access to that test (nudge to Facebook here), the blog is telling. Basically, it means that instead of having to click on a person’s face in order to tag him/her, Facebook’s technology will automatically “frame” faces so all users will have to do is type in the name of the person and hit enter. Not really an improvement, if you ask me.

Here’s what it should look like for the moment:

Facebook face detector.JPG

Full Facial Recognition?
However, it might be that Facebook is being cautious. After all, Odio is talking about a feature “using the same face detection technology that cameras have used for years.” … Just like in movies? It wouldn’t be surprising if the company were bracing to launch full face recognition. Read: no need to type in a name, the software will recognize the faces and suggest names. *That* will be something.

Privacy Flag Flying High
Again, privacy issues immediately spring to mind. If such were the case (and I believe it is), it means Facebook would be able to disclose the identities on the over 100 million photos that are uploaded every day on its platform. This reminds me notably (although, clearly, in the case, the wife was the blunder perpetrator) of the case of Sir John Sawers. He is the UK’s ambassador to the UN and is slated to head the MI6 (yes, the secret services) but his wife posted his pictures as well as those of his family on Facebook. Had the site had full face recognition feature at the time, it would have been much more damaging to the diplomat’s reputation.

Photo Search Potential
Facebook is also testing its search engine power and building on that, in terms of search capacities, were the company to integrate a full face recognition feature, it would propel the social site in the top places for photo search. The likes of Nachofoto are actively working on such technology, especially for real-time queries but if Facebook were to leverage the 100 million daily photo input of its over 400 million active users, it would turn into a search powerhouse within less than a minute.

It’s highly probable though that the Palo Alto company will wait for feedback before stepping further into such territory, as it has already faced much criticism and even regulatory probes over its privacy stance. The social site has just unveiled simplified privacy settings in May and is unlikely to act anything but cautiously. Point in case, it’s calling for feedback and suggestions to support the announced enhancement of the latest photo feature.

R&D Means Cash
If it were really to develop in that direction, Facebook would need funding… And apparently, the social site is also taking care of that. According to Tech Crunch, Facebook has cashed $120 million from private equity firm Elevation Partners in exchange for five million additional Facebook shares.

Elevation Partners.JPG

Citing a recent letter to Elevation’s limited partners, Tech Crunch says the firm bought the shares on the second market, on top of its already held 2.5 million shares acquired for $90 million in November. On the secondary market, the seller can choose who it decides to sell to, unlike on the stock market where a company has no control over who buys its stakes. Tech Crunch notes that Elevation “has tight ties with the company.” The firm’s founders Roger McNamee and U2 pop singer Bono are “personal investors in Facebook, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s brother-in-law is Mark Bodnick, another Elevation partner.”

Let’s also not forget Facebook’s new source of revenue via its brand new five-year deal with social game firm Crowdstar who has accepted to use Facebook credits…

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