Fotobounce hypes alternative facial recognition option

In wake of Facebook Inc.’s decision to avoid launching its new facial recognition technology in Canada, one Toronto area firm is encouraging businesses and consumers to consider the risks associated with posting photos to a public Web site.

Oakville, Ont.-based Applied Recognition Inc., which launched its Fotobounce Viewer app for Android last week, said users may be tiring of the typical model for online photo storage sites. The company is pushing its new mobile app and its integration with the existing Windows and Mac-based Fotobounce desktop software.

“They want you to upload as many photos as you’ve got onto their sites,” said Ray Ganong, president and board member at Fotobounce. “The problem with that is you’ve got no contractual relationship with that firm.”

He added that there’s no guarantee on availability, no assurances the data is being backed up and no responsibility if your valuable data happens to get lost.

Fotobounce is a desktop-based app which allows users to organize their photos and share them across an encrypted, photo sharing network. The company, which refers to the technology as “Skype for photos,” also gives users the option to upload their sorted photos to Facebook, Flickr or Twitter.

One of Fotobounce’s flagship features, however, is its face detection engine.

The first time a user uploads photos to Fotobounce, the system automatically clusters similar unidentified faces together in groups. Users will then be asked to confirm the matches, individually or en masse, and assign a name to each cluster.

Despite the similar functionality, Ganong envisions Fotobounce as a complimentary service to Facebook and other photo sharing networks.

“We give users face recognition, but it remains on the desktop,” he said. “What they choose to share online only contains name tags or key words for the people in the photos. It’s a secure way of implementing face recognition without the associated risks.”

Ganong’s words come on the heels of a similar warning by David Fewer, director of Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.

He said last week that Facebook is missing a tremendous opportunity to actually enhance user privacy with its facial recognition feature. One example he said, could be the ability to notify a user when they appear in a non-tagged photograph uploaded to the site.

“Currently, I only know when I’ve been tagged,” Fewer said. “With facial pattern recognition technology, I can also know whenever I’m recognizable in a photo, whether I’ve been tagged or not. It’s disappointing that Facebook is not offering this service.”

In addition to the Facebook facial recognition controversy, the social networks biggest rival, Google Inc., also ramped up efforts in the facial recognition space recently. The company acquired Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition last month, a company which develops technology for recognizing faces in images and video.

“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,” PittPatt said.

Fotobounce said it currently has 150,000 users, but hopes to reach its target of 1 million users within the next 12 months.

– With files from James Niccolai, IDG News Service