Though they once denounced facial recognition databases as “too creepy even for Google,” the tech juggernaut has acquired the facial recognition startup PittPatt.
The technology, which is capable of recognizing individuals in both images and video, may have possible applications in many of Google’s products, particularly in Youtube and the image sharing program Picasa.
“It’s a natural fit to join Google and bring the benefits of our research and technology to a wider audience,” PittPatt said on its blog announcing the acquisition. “We will continue to tap the potential of computer vision in applications that range from simple photo organization to complex video and mobile applications.”
Started by the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Lab in 1999, Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, or PittPatt for short, launched as an independent company in 2004. (Navy to deploy death ray machine gun)
This move reverses Google’s previous stance on facial recognition technology, which, while perfectly legal, has serious ethical implications in regards to privacy. Former CEO Eric Schmidt revealed in June that Google had once worked on its own facial recognition program, planning on integrating it into its own products as Google Goggles, but withheld it due to his concerns over how it would be used. “As far as I know it’s the only technology Google built and after looking at it we decided to stop,” he said.
For Schmidt, the larger concern lay in how this technology could be used, particularly by oppressive regimes. “If you imagine, for example, what a perfectly executing evil dictator would do with all this technology — complete supervision, complete tracking, and so forth — and then you imagine what the dissident in that society would do, using the very best encryption tools and so forth, unfortunately you conclude that exactly the same tools are the ones that would be used by terrorists against an open society.”