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Facebook facial recognition algorithm uses more than your face to identify you

Tue 23 Jun 2015

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Facebook’s research into Artificial Intelligence has helped it to develop an experimental algorithm that can recognise users based on other factors besides their facial geometry, including clothing, hairstyle, pose and body-shape.

The technique, which debuted at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Boston this month, was arrived at by the Facebook AI team running 40,000 Flickr photos through its analysis systems – photos in which the subjects’ faces were often tangential, obscured or completely hidden. The team have achieved 83% recognition accuracy with the algorithm.

Head of artificial intelligence Yann LeCun said: “There are a lot of cues we use. People have characteristic aspects, even if you look at them from the back. For example, you can recognise Mark Zuckerberg very easily, because he always wears a gray T-shirt,”

Effectively this means that individuals could become more difficult to identify on networks after radical changes in styling – though of course this would not affect the susceptibility of their facial structure to FR algorithms, and neither would it prove much of a barrier to gait recognition techniques.

Last week Facebook rolled out its Moments app, which runs facial recognition over the photos that users have uploaded in an attempt to identify key events in the end-user’s life. Privacy advocates responded negatively to the release, claiming that the functionality permits Facebook to gather detailed knowledge of a user’s associates and friends, in a manner which would challenge the resources of even the best-paid private investigator.

Ultimately the company decide not to release Moments for European users, anticipating a likely crosswind of opposition from EU legislators and privacy advocates. A European version may be released if Facebook implement an ‘opt-in’ mechanism for the facial recognition feature – a facility that European regulators warned Facebook’s head of policy in Europe Richard Allan would be requisite for a European release.

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