New FindFace App Allows Users to Snap Photos of Strangers and Trace Their Identities

May 18, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Mural in Hollywood California depicting facial recognition
Photo credit: YO! What Happened To Peace?/flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

The end of anonymity as we know it?

A new app called FindFace launched two months ago in Russia, and over 500 million users have already created accounts. The draw? Users are able to snap a photo of strangers in a crowd and pinpoint their identities with 70 percent accuracy.

The designers imagine a world where people could sneak photographs of each other in passing, and then advertisers, police, or romantic prospects could trace the passerby’s identity via social networks.

The app works by comparing photos to profile pictures on Vkontakte, a popular social network in Russia with over 200 million users. The software currently can’t sift through Facebook profiles, because even the public images are stored in a way that’s more difficult to access than those on Vkontakte, the creators told The Guardian.

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The algorithm is a step ahead of other facial recognition technology because it allows for quick searches in big data sets.

“Three million searches in a database of nearly 1bn photographs: that’s hundreds of trillions of comparisons, and all on four normal servers. With this algorithm, you can search through a billion photographs in less than a second from a normal computer,” said 29-year-old founder Alexander Kabakov.

Once you search for an individual in the app, it will spit back the most likely match to the face that’s been uploaded, as well as 10 other people who look similar.

Kabakov also says that the app could transform the dating sphere:  “If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request.”

Plus, users wouldn’t only have to upload images of a passerby on the street or subway. “It also looks for similar people. 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,” he explains.

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However, Kabakov thinks the applications of the app will extend far past tracing the identity of an attractive passerby — he thinks both retail and law enforcement will benefit from the facial recognition software.

In fact, he says that him and fellow founder Artem Kukharenko have been contacted by Russian police who said they loaded photographs of suspects into FindFace and actually came up with results. “It’s nuts: there were cases that had seen no movement for years, and now they are being solved,” said Kabakov.

The creators are currently in the final stages of signing a contract with the Moscow government to sync the app to the city’s network of 150,000 CCTV cameras. That way, if a crime is committed, the system can scan through mugshots of anyone in the area and match them with photographs on wanted lists and court records.

People can argue that the concept of FindFace is creepy and invasive, but Kabakov says that the advancement of technology isn’t going to stop — we have to work with it and make sure it stays open and transparent.

“In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us,” he says. “A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that.”

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