Facebook Acquires Facial Recognition Company

Facebook just purchased facial recognition technology company Face.com. Members of the online social networking powerhouse often use the Israeli startup’s software to identify and tag photos. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Reuters cites the inevitable “people familiar with the matter” as stating that Facebook laid out between $55 million and $60 million to acquire Face.com. That’s less than the $80 million to $100 million for which some media reports speculated the deal would close.

Face.com launched its first product in 2009. It has grown to 11 employees. In addition to providing the technology integrated into Facebook’s facial recognition for photos, the startup makes standalone applications that serve the same function. On Facebook, the technology comes into play when users upload new photos. It compares the faces in the images with previous pictures, and attempts to match them up; when it finds a match, it alerts the user and suggests a “tag.”

The facial recognition technology has raised privacy concerns, however; in response, Facebook made it easier for users to opt out of it. According to Facebook, this latest acquisition won’t change that; indeed, it doesn’t mean the company will be changing its current system at all. “This transaction simply brings a world-class team and a long-time technology vendor in house,” noted a Facebook spokesperson.

This latest acquisition by Facebook seems to mesh well with its earlier $1 billion purchase of Instagram, which offers a mobile photo-sharing service. That deal is still being reviewed by US regulators, but is expected to close within six months. Just a few weeks after purchasing Instagram, Facebook unveiled a photo sharing smartphone app, dubbed Camera.

These moves have some wondering if Facebook is building a huge database of faces. Indeed, Privacy International’s head of communications, Emma Draper, stated that “Facebook are in the process of building the largest and most accurate facial recognition database in the world, and with great power comes great responsibility.”

Facebook denied that it was building a facial recognition database. The company noted that the technology is not set up to allow anyone to identify anyone else on the social network unless they were already friends with them. Even so, it’s worth noting that Face.com supports at least one third-party app that lets Twitter users identify people with which they aren’t necessarily friends: CelebrityFindr, which helps users find photos of celebrities.  

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