App That Can Identify Strangers’ Faces Gets Heat From Al Franken

NameTag says it can use Google Glass to find strangers’ dating profiles.

National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Feb. 5, 2014, 2:02 p.m.

A Google Glass app that claims it can scan strangers’ faces and pull up in­form­a­tion about them on­line is draw­ing scru­tiny from Cap­it­ol Hill.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Al Franken sent a let­ter Wed­nes­day ur­ging the maker of the NameTag app to delay its re­lease. Franken de­man­ded more in­form­a­tion about how the app will work and urged the com­pany to im­ple­ment tough­er pri­vacy safe­guards.

“Your com­pany has a duty to act as a re­spons­ible cor­por­ate cit­izen in de­ploy­ing this tech­no­logy, which must be done in a man­ner that re­spects and pro­tects in­di­vidu­al pri­vacy,” wrote Franken, the chair­man of the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s Pri­vacy, Tech­no­logy, and the Law Sub­com­mit­tee.

The makers of NameTag say it can use the Google Glass cam­era to scan people’s faces and then look for matches on­line, in­clud­ing on dat­ing sites like Ok­Cu­pid and Match. Franken ex­pressed alarm that the app could al­low users to identi­fy a stranger’s name, pho­tos, re­la­tion­ship status, and oth­er private in­form­a­tion without their con­sent or know­ledge.

Google, however, bans the use of fa­cial-re­cog­ni­tion tech­no­logy on Glass — its com­pu­ter­ized eye­wear that is still in lim­ited re­lease.

“Our policy re­mains as it did when we pub­licly banned fa­cial-re­cog­ni­tion apps in June 2013,” Google spokes­wo­man Sam Smith said. “This app would not be avail­able for dis­tri­bu­tion on Glass.”

But Franken ex­pressed con­cern that the app could work if a Glass device is “jail­broken” — a modi­fic­a­tion that could al­low users to by­pass Google’s lim­it­a­tions on the device.

Fa­cial­Net­, which makes the app, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but in the com­pany’s pro­mo­tion­al ma­ter­i­als, it ar­gues that the app will make the world a “much more con­nec­ted place.”

“It’s much easi­er to meet in­ter­est­ing new people when we can simply look at someone, see their Face­book, re­view their Linked­In page, or maybe even see their dat­ing-site pro­file. Of­ten we were in­ter­act­ing with people blindly or not in­ter­act­ing at all. NameTag on Google Glass can change all that,” Kev­in Alan Tussy, the app’s cre­at­or, said in a state­ment last month.

At the ur­ging of Franken, the Na­tion­al Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions and In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a Com­merce De­part­ment agency, will be­gin its study of the pri­vacy risks of fa­cial re­cog­ni­tion tech­no­logy at a meet­ing Thursday.

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