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Facial recognition comes to Google Glass

By Michael Mayday , May 27, 2013 07:33 AM EDT
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Google Glass will soon get its own facial recognition application, though it won't be made by Google.

Instead, Lambda Labs, a San Francisco facial recognition startup, will produce an application programming interface (API) for Glass developers to use. The API could then be used by developers to create applications allowing users to identify both objects and faces through Google Glass.

Lambda Labs co-founder, Stephen Balaban, said, in an interview with TechCrunch, that API should be available within the week.

The idea of using Glass to remember faces, match people who may be interested in doing business at a networking event and locate friends in a crowd has been around for a while, though Google has been hesitant to develop these applications.

But for those thinking notifications and updates will pop up in real-time on Glass will be sorely disappointed. Google's Mirror API, which powers Google Glass, currently requires a user to snap a photo to upload to Google's servers for analysis before Google sends the user any notifications.

As TechCrunch's Sarah Perez points out, that requires a several second delay, though it does appear that Google is looking to speed up the process in an upcoming Glass software development kit.

There's also the issue of privacy protection imposed by either federal law or Google itself.

"There is nothing in the Glass Terms of Service that explicitly prevents us from doing this. However, there is a risk that Google may change the ToS in an attempt to stop us from providing this functionality," Balaban said to TechCrunch. "This is the first face recognition toolkit for Glass, so we're just not sure how Google, or the privacy caucus, will react."

And the privacy caucus has its friends in high places. Congress grilled Google CEO Larry Page in early May over what its Glass hardware is capable of, how it could infringe on people's privacy and what sort of privacy-oriented guidelines Google is issuing to its third-party developers.

Google has, in the past, explored the use of facial recognition technology, and was at one point allegedly testing an application where users can take photos of people in order to access their personal information. That application hasn't been released, though the Internet search giant has integrated facial recognition into Google+. But Google+ doesn't do this by default, requireing explicit user approvial to have their faces recognized in the service..

"We've consistently said that we won't add new face recognition features to our services unless we have strong privacy protections in place," Steve Lee, director of product management for Google Glass, said in a statement published in The New York Times.

Lambda Labs got its start after Facebook bought and closed Face.com, an Israeli-based a facial recognition website. That left some 45,000 developers looking for an open-source facial recognition API, which Lambda Labs was quick to fill.

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