Facebook is spending $60 million to recognize your face

The social giant bets big on facial recognition software, but what is it using that information for?

It's getting harder to be anonymous online. No matter what Lady Gaga tells you. Sorry, Ms. Gaga, Facebook in particular is pretty good at using software to read your face, poker or not, and tell who you are. The company's been using facial recognition software for some time now.

And Facebook's about to get better at it, having announced a deal to acquire Face.com, a facial recognition software company for between $55 million and $60 million.

Brian Mennecke of Iowa State University says math is at the heart of how this software works. "So it's going to look at things like the distance between your eyes. The space between your eyes and your mouth and the bridge of your nose and the shape of your nose and the distance between your ears. So, there are certain parts of the face that when you start putting all these together are going to start painting a picture of you as a unique individual, like fingerprints."

On a site like Facebook, facial recognition could be used to help spot your friends in pictures, which can be fun. Graham Cluley of the security firm Sophos thinks there could also be a more troubling side to it. "The real privacy concern is Facebook is creating what could end up being the world's biggest database of people's faces, and it's not only knowing what you look like, but of course, all that other information Facebook has about you. It knows what you like, it knows about your friend relationships, it knows where you're checking in, and all of this information together can be a very valuable thing. So, one concern is how well is Facebook going to look after this data, but also how might they choose to monetize it in the future, after all, this is a company which definitely wants to appease its shareholders."

If this sounds a little unsettling, the only thing you can really do to completely get out of the facial recognition system on Facebook is to quit Facebook.

Cluley says there are ways to manage it from your account but not block it out entirely. "When one of your friends uploads a photo and Facebook thinks that it looks like you, it will suggest to your friend, Hey! That looks like John, or that looks like Graham in this photo, do you want to tag them. And what you can do is you can go into your privacy settings and you can change your timeline and tagging settings to say don't recommend to anyone, or don't suggest to anyone that a photo looks like me, but that doesn’t' mean necessarily that Facebook isn't still learning what you look like, and they could use that information in other ways in the future."

It might seem creepy, sure, but then again you did sign up for a site called Facebook.

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And now, Tech Report Theater.

I will play the Amazon Kindle, producer Larissa Anderson will play the public library.

Moe: Hey kids, Kindle here. I know you all love Harry Potter books and the spells and the wands and so forth. Good news. You can read them for free on a Kindle through our lending program.

Larissa Anderson: You are handy. That's why a lot of libraries have lending programs for Kindles. You can also GO to a library and check out a physical Harry Potter book.

Moe: But on a Kindle, the book ZAPS in there. Like a Harry Potter spell. Bookus Kindlus! And again -- free!

Anderson:  Hold on, don't you have to be an Amazon Prime member? And that costs 79 bucks a year.

Moe: Yes. If you pay 79 bucks, it's free.

Anderson: I don't think you understand what free means.

Moe: Hey, you should talk, public library. You charge people money if they keep a book too long.

Anderson: And what do you do if they keep a borrowed Kindle book for more than a month?

Moe: Delete it. Deletus Harry Potterus Bookus! I'm like a wizard.

Anderson: Can we just agree that its good that kids have a lot of different ways they could read over the summer?

Moe: You're right. Readus Allofus. Aaand scene.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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