Facebook has got into trouble before for its use of facial recognition in the past, but it seems the company went a lot further with the technology for internal use.
Business Insider reports that the company created an app that could identify friends and colleagues with facial recognition simply by pointing their phone cameras at their faces. Anonymous sources told the site that the app was developed between 2015 and 2016, and has long been discontinued.
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According to the piece, when the phone camera was pointed at the friend, the app would display their name and Facebook profile after a short delay. One source even claimed that a version of the app could identify anybody on the site – assuming there was enough facial recognition data about them.
In a widely shared statement, Facebook accepted that it had a facial recognition app for employees, but denied the claim that it could be used on anybody bar employees and their immediate contacts. “As a way to learn about new technologies, our teams regularly build apps to use internally,” the company said. “The app described here were only available to Facebook employees, and could only recognise employees and their friends who had face recognition enabled.”
It perhaps shouldn’t come as any surprise that Facebook was experimenting in this way. For a long time, the company has suggested people tag themselves in untagged photos if it recognises their likeness in them – something that was subject to a lawsuit in Illinois. The same feature is blocked in the UK thanks to EU rules.
But although this particular app was made and abandoned long before the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal became public, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the company isn’t in any rush to talk about such experiments more often. The company’s reputation is still yet to fully recover two years later.
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