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December 18, 2013

Small Start-Up Develops Unauthorized Glass Facial Recognition App

Google+ image — A model wears an early version of Glass, Google's wearable computing device.

Google announced this summer that facial recognition capabilities would not be part of Glass for some time, but a young entrepreneur is taking matters into his own hands.

Stephen Balaban, owner of Lambda Labs, plans to launch an unauthorized app for Glass that enables users of the device to collect and index any face viewed through the futuristic spectacles. Dubbed FaceRec, it will also work with other recognizable objects such as computer screens and license plates, Forbes is reporting.

Balaban’s start-up also plans to release Lambda Hat, a $255 camera-enabled hat. Pre-orders for the Android-based device will be accepted beginning Friday.

Combined, the Glass app and high-tech hat would enable users to log every face they see.

“As you collect data over time, you can start to ask questions like, who was that person I talked to during the last month at the Rosewood?” Balaban was quoted by Forbes. “Give it a geolocation, and you can find all the pictures and timestamps at that location, and it will show you all the people you saw.”

Balaban’s inventions are sure to worry the privacy watchdogs that pushed Google to delay its face recognition app. A committee of Congress earlier  this year demanded Google provide answers on its plans to protect personal privacy if Glass included facial recognition.

The caucus — made up of Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), Hank Johnson, Jr. (D-Ga.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) — asked Google this summer how it would prevent Glass from unintentionally collecting data about users without their consent, a valid concern, they said, given that, in 2010, Google collected data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks without permission.

“Google Glass has the potential to change the way people communicate and interact,” Barton, who heads the committee, said in a statement on his website. “When new technology like this is introduced that could change societal norms, I believe it is important that people’s rights be protected and vital that privacy is built into the device. I look forward to continuing a working relationship with Google as Google Glass develops.”

Susan Molinari, Google’s public policy and government relations vice-president, told the committee Google has no plans to include facial recognition in Glass until it has “appropriate privacy protections in place.”

The Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus is not alone in its concerns about Glass. Just one month after Congress questioned Google about Glass, privacy watchdogs from six other countries — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Israel and Mexico — followed suit.

Now that Balaban is planning to release his own face recognition app, it is a sure bet that the same parties questioning Google about its intentions will not be thrilled by FaceRec or Balaban’s Lambda Hat.


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.