The application's name is PittPatt and it allows
a complete stranger to find your identity -- your real identity -- in under 60 seconds.
Here's how it works. A client code calls the PittPatt interface
with a picture it's taken. PittPatt jumps online and compares that
picture to millions of images in Facebook and in Google Inc.'s (GOOG)
image search, using advanced facial recognition technology.
And within 60 seconds, it can identify an individual.
The technology is more than a little creepy. It seems
straight out of futurist thriller flick The Minority Report, where
Tom Cruise's character is assailed by advertising billboards that ID him by
retinal scans. In the movie Cruise solves this problem by replacing his
eyeballs. In real life it won't be that simple (hint: you might need
PittPatt was a Carnegie Mellon
University research project, which spun off into a company post
9/11. At the time, U.S. intelligence was obsessed with using advanced facial recognition to
identify terrorists. So the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) poured millions into
And it worked. PittPatt's proprietary technology can spot
faces even when people wear sunglasses, hats, or masks. While that sounds
like a bank robber's worst nightmare, it's also alarming news for law abiding
Now the technology is in the hands of advertising giant Google.
Google purchased the company for an undisclosed price in July.
PittPatt announced on its website, "Joining
Google is the next thrilling step in a journey that began with research at
Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute in the 1990s and continued with
the launching of Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition (PittPatt) in 2004."
"We've worked hard to advance the research and technology in
many important ways and have seen our technology come to life in some very
interesting products. At Google, computer vision technology is already at the
core of many existing products (such as Image Search, YouTube, Picasa, and
Goggles), so it's a natural fit to join Google and bring the benefits of our
research and technology to a wider audience. We will continue to tap the
potential of computer vision in applications that range from simple photo
organization to complex video and mobile applications."
Just two months prior it had been all denials and winks when
Google was confronted with a CNN story which had a Google engineer on record
stating that facial recognition technology was being developed to add to Google
Goggles. Stated Google at the time, "As we've said for more than a
year, we will not add facial recognition to Goggles unless we have strong
privacy protections in place. We're still working on them. We have nothing to
announce at this time."
Ph.D, a researcher and instructor still at Carnegie Mellon has designed an
iPhone app that functions as a front end for PittPatt's facial recognition
technology. As mentioned, it can identify strangers Facebook profiles
with startling accuracy.
And that's not all it can do. It also incorporates searches
of public databases that allows it to make a good guess at your social security
number. If it knows your date of birth (e.g. if your Facebook profile is
public), there's a good chance it can ID your social security number.
Of course, the app relies on finding publicly available pictures
of you online. You can always put a picture of something other than your
face as your profile image for social networks like Facebook and Google Plus. But given the fact that many
professional positions involve media exposure and/or online corporate bios,
that may not be enough to protect your privacy.
Professor Acquisiti, showed his app off to NPR.
The news service writes:
Fred Cate [a law professor and privacy guru at Indiana University]
says just imagine if you were a car dealer. You could hook Acquisti's app up to
your surveillance cameras, identify potential customers, then check their
incomes and credit ratings while they wandered around your lot.
Alessandro Acquisti has no plans to sell his app or make it public. In fact,
the prospect of that horrifies him. But Cate thinks the commercial pressure to
use technology like this will be intense. And some of the biggest companies in
America agree. PittPatt was just bought by Google. But its technology only
exists because of investments the government made in research in the wake of
the attacks 10 years ago.
The app isn't publicly
available. And stalkers and frauds still have to resort to conventional
methods like climbing in your window, sifting through your
mail, or sending you phishing emails.
But if there's one take
home message of the Google-PittPatt deal, it's the revelation that we're
approaching an era where it will be incredibly difficult to protect one's
privacy and finances. When and if this technology hits the public it will
shake both the social and financial foundations of society and no one can
honestly say exactly what the end result will be.
quote: "Its mere existence is unconstitutional". That's convincing. ;-) Without citing Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, please explain where in the Constitution this is forbidden - and why it doesn't similarly forbid the FBI, CIA, DEA, and any other federal security division.
quote: "Gun control is unconstitutional" - um, that's not what the Supreme Court has ruled, and they're the authorities on what's constitutional. You're not even trying to not sound like an extremist.
quote: Sigh... health care is not unconstitutional either, and you ARE a Ron Paul Tea Party Brigade member; I was hoping I was off-base. I'm sure auto insurance is unconstitutional too, right? Are you also one of those "soverign citizen" types who think you don't need a license to drive either?
quote: "Facial recognition is unconstitutional" - why don't you just say that anything you don't like is unconstitutional?
quote: When Michelle Bachmann wins a straw poll, that's a sign the problem isn't government anymore... it's an appallingly ignorant citizenship who'll believe anything, particularly if it's something bad about some other group of their fellow countrymen.
quote: I'm not an extremist, but the 2nd amendment is quite clear in what it states. The supreme court is not an authority; the citizens of the USA are the authority and law-abiding citizens do have a right to possess firearms for protection and self-defense. I am happy to see that a couple politicians are pushing a reciprocity act that would allow people with concealed carry licenses to cross state lines legally with their firearms.
quote: How is that unconstitutional. To me it sounds like a tax which last I checked the gov't was within its rights to tax it's citizens
quote: Also wrong again. It is only unconstitutional if someones privacy is violated by gov't. Just because there is a chance it could be violated does not mean anything. If police use it within the laws that are set which includes getting a search warrant or following the laws of a reasonable search then no 4th amendment violation is there.
quote: Wrong? Me? Never. The fact that you can legally take pictures of anyone in a public place would easily open the door for this technology to be abused by government/law enforcement. The scans and searches imposed by the TSA for people wanting to fly are also a violation of the 4th amendment.
quote: Really you have to resort to name calling?
quote: Just because the technology has the potential for abuse does not mean it is unconstitutional. GPS is technology that can track your location is it unconstitutional to have it in your cell phone when there is a chance for abuse from the police. Technology is also going to evolve and as it evolves there will always be a chance for abuse. Does that mean the technology is unconstitutional? That would be ridiculous to assume any new technology with a chance of abuse from the government should not be made.
quote: As for the other two points I don't really care since it is off the point of the article.
quote: Obamacare in a nutshell states that all US citizens must pay for health insurance. Who said anything about healthcare? Obamacare does not address the fundamental issue as to why people do not have health insurance - it's too fckin expensive! Healthcare in the USA, while maybe higher than some other countries, is priced well beyond what a legitimate market would support. It is definitely unconstitutional to force people to purchase health insurance, and furthermore it will not solve the problem of affordability for many people who currently do not have health insurance.
quote: Is that what I said? Pretty sure it's not. I said that this implementation (i.e. the contents of this news article) is unconstitutional because it IS sponsored by the government and it is a violation of the 4th amendment. It's not a matter of whether or not I like something.