New facial recognition app 'creepy', says kids entertainer Raffi
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A new facial recognition app that allows anyone to instantly look up social media and dating profiles of someone whose photo they snap has been denounced by Canadian privacy watchdogs as "creepy" and "dangerous."
Creators of the app, called NameTag, say it can spot a face using Google Glass' camera or an Android phone, send it to a server, compare it to millions of online records and in seconds return a match complete with a name, additional photos and social media profiles.
The developer, FacialNetwork.com, says it is working on making the system compatible with dating sites such as PlentyOfFish.com, OkCupid.com and Match.com, and that it will also be able to identify people with a criminal history.
Google Glass does not currently support facial recognition apps because of privacy concerns, but the app's developers are hoping to change that. In the meantime there will be several other ways to access it once it is released in the spring.
Anyone with a photo of a stranger will be able to log in to the NameTag website or use a device that supports the app. They can upload the photo and discover the subject's Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, as well as dating profiles.
The app's creator, Kevin Alan Tussy, said in a statement that people who do not wish to be identified will be able to log onto the website and opt out of being searchable.
NameTag spokeswoman Jordan McGee said in an email to Metro that only profiles of those 18 and older will be searchable — but this is little comfort to privacy advocates.
App opens door for stalkers and predators, watchdogs warn
He is the founder of the B.C.-based Centre for Child Honouring, and co-founded the Red Hood Project, a movement for consumer protection for children, in the wake of the Amanda Todd tragedy. He has also written a book about Internet privacy called Lightweb, Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us.
He said NameTag's promise to protect minors rings hollow.
"It's impossible, he said. "You can't know how old someone is online in social media... Millions of parents, and this is well known, lie about their kids' age, and put them on Facebook much younger than 13. This is a huge problem."
His Red Hood Project co-founder, Vancouver-based activist Sandy Garossino, has been calling for years on the federal government to force social media companies to require age verification.
Metro is awaiting answers from McGee about how NameTag can assure that minors will not be searchable in the absence of mandatory age verification by social media companies.
But even beyond concerns about children's safety, Garossino said the app should raise major red flags for women everywhere.
"Guys will use this to identify women that they want to find out more about and meet," she said. "So it is clear this opens the doors wide to stalking... For girls and women this is actually a real and present danger.
"The public should be getting extremely angry about this, and women need to stand up and say 'this is not on, our faces are not your property. Your right to invade my space stops at my face.'"
Heather Ormerod, a spokesperson for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, said that since neither the app nor Google Glass are currently available in Canada, her office has yet to examine it in depth.
The Commissioner has, however, raised concerns with Google about potential privacy issues with Glass and been assured that the product will not support facial recognition technology, she said.
Facial recognition technology is not illegal in Canada, but to date privacy commissioners have prohibited its use in certain situations, such as when the Insurance Corporation of B.C. offered it to police to help them identify Stanley Cup rioters.
The technology is already used by some Canadian stores to stop known shoplifters from entering, and by governments, high-security buildings and commercial operations such as banks to verify identities.
-With a file from The Toronto Star
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