Stalker-friendly app, NameTag, uses facial recognition to look you up online

Filed Under: Featured, Google, Privacy

Hidden face. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.The real world is about to become a much more stalker-friendly place.

The makers of a new app, "NameTag," say that their facial-recognition software is actually supposed to make the world a much more connected place, but given that the app can spot a face and wirelessly match it up to social media profiles, all without giving people the option to opt out, let's go with stalker-friendly.

According to the app's developer, FacialNetwork.com:

NameTag links your face to a single, unified online presence that includes your contact information, social media profiles, interests, hobbies and passions and anything else you want to share with the world.

But wait, you say - I can choose not to share my intimate details with every Glass-wearing and smartphone-wielding creep I meet, so what's the big deal?

Yes, the app's users can do that, but the rest of us are apparently sitting ducks.

The reason there's no opt-out or opt-in is going to sound familiar to those who've read about other stalker-enabling apps such as Girls Around Me.

Namely, NameTag is drawing on publicly available information.

According to spokeswoman Jordan McGee, NameTag is going to function like a real-time online search that's triggered by facial recognition, cross-referencing information across the web and compiling it into one profile that's presented to smartphone app users or Glass wearers - sometimes known as Glassholes.

Compiling publicly available information will present users with an instant read of whether the person they're ogling is single, for example, along with whatever embarrassing things they've written (or photos they've posted) on Facebook, Twitter, Imgur, Pinterest or other social media sites, she said.

As long as it's been made public, it's fair game.

FacialNetwork.com's Kevin Alan Tussy told me that phone numbers and addresses won't be displayed. At first, I thought he meant that when the app eyeballs a pretty woman on the street, her phone number and address wouldn't be shown, even if publicly available.

But that led me to wonder whether the same privacy protection would be given to other intimate personal data, such as income, political affiliation, sexual orientation or the like.

He said:

We will never display those things unless a person specifically wants us to. Most of those won't even have designated fields in our database. For example, if you want to show your income, you would have to type in the open notes field.

Unfortunately, it sounds as if the only way to control sensitive information is to join NameTag and create your own profile. The theoretical woman in the street, if she's made her phone number or address public anywhere online, won't be afforded that privacy control, in spite of never having opted in to this service.

Is this really the best way to handle privacy? To force the public to know about every startup that comes onto the scene, to join every one of them, to create their own profiles, and to then suppress that information, all manually, all on a site by site basis, service by service, startup by startup?

Yoinks. One would imagine not.

FacialNetwork.com is also working to allow the scanning of profile photos from dating sites such as PlentyOfFish.com, OkCupid.com and Match.com.

But wait. Online dating profiles are private. You need a password to access the profiles that contain the photos. How will NameTag get around that?

It won't, but its users will.

NameTagTussy said that users will be able to copy a photo from a dating site profile and then paste it into the app's site to conduct an image search - similar to what people might do with an image search on Google.

The app is currently in beta for Google Glass users, and will soon be released as an app for iOS and Android.

Tussy said in a news release that “Making Real-Time Facial Recognition work on Glass hasn’t been easy," but the developers managed it - all in spite of Google having announced that it's not yet supporting facial recognition for Glass.

Undoubtedly, the developer said, this reticence is "due to pressure from privacy groups", but FacialNetwork.com thinks that Google will eventually reconsider after it sees the "vast societal benefits" afforded by NameTag.

There are extremely good reasons for Google not to support facial recognition. What would make Google ignore the input from privacy groups and change its mind on this issue, I asked?

Tussy's reply:

We bring Google+, Facebook, Twitter and all the other sites into real life social interactions, and we see that as the biggest reason for them to support us. NameTag has been created with a great respect for privacy and it is a tool that will greatly benefit our society and the lives of individuals. Our largest concern for our apps, especially our mobile apps, is balancing privacy with our new technology. We believe that we have found that balance and that Google and other mobile device providers will see that and allow us to officially utilize their platforms.

As far as I can tell, NameTag is balancing privacy and technology by giving its users the ability to control what information is displayed about them. The rest of us are left to our own resources and our own vigilance with regard to our images and our personal data.

So, use this as another excuse to check your privacy settings on all your social networks, and, as always, keep intimate photos and personal data as closely buttoned up as possible so that you're not letting apps that feed on publicly available data gorge themselves on yours.

Image of hidden face courtesy of Shutterstock.

, ,

You might like

15 Responses to Stalker-friendly app, NameTag, uses facial recognition to look you up online

  1. Ian · 257 days ago

    Good information to know. I am for the app and will be trying it out.

    This could be a good tool to assist in helping to identify which information on these social sites is still being open to the public, allowing me to finetune my family's privacy settings appropriately.

    • Regnad Kcin · 256 days ago

      Why the downvotes? There have been other sites doing this exact same thing for years.

      "I can choose not to share my intimate details with every Glass-wearing and smartphone-wielding creep I meet." Not if you've posted them and "anything else you want to share with the world", as the app promises.

  2. Ugh. Thank you for this article, nslisavaas.

    Question: If "users will be able to copy a photo from a [private] dating site profile and then paste it into the app's site to conduct an image search," isn't that akin to copyright infringement? What are the privacy rights of the photo's owner when "sharing" a photo in a private forum?

    • Andrew Ludgate · 257 days ago

      Actually, it's even more complicated than this... most forums have boilerplate disclaiming liability and giving them permission to do what they will with images you post to their service. HOWEVER, the person submitting the image isn't necessarily the photographer -- and with photographs, copyright is held by the photographer, not the subject of the photo.

      This means that if, say, a friend takes a group photo and sends me a copy, and I upload it to Facebook, I'm automatically infringing on their copyright unless I first got permission. That permission has to include the fact that the photo is not being given to me, but also to Facebook to do with according to their TOS. As soon as the Facebook user (whether me or one of my friends who can view my photos) then grabs the photo and loads it into NameTag, permission from the photographer is possibly needed once again, unless they gave Facebook permission to do whatever they wanted with the photo.

      Long and short of it is: privacy rights (and copyright) get really messy once you put a photo on a social media site, and most people aren't aware of the implications of doing so.

    • Anonymous · 256 days ago

      It's a good question, but I'll top it off with a zillion related questions. Copyright law is complicated. I'm sitting here right now talking to somebody who knows about it, and my head is fuzzy with talk of robot.txt (search the term) and DCMA takedown notices for unfair usage.

      Takedown notices. OK, send takedown notices to whom? to NameTag? they aren't crawling the dating sites, though. It's their users who will be able to copy a private image and submit it to NameTag for facial recognition, which makes NameTag more of a broker, the same as Google is when you do an image search, yes?

      OK, so what's the difference between a Google search and a NameTag search? Google has limits on what returns they'll give on a search, I'm told. Robots.txt directories list certain content as private, which Google recognizes. Does NameTag recognize the same designation of content as private?

      What about the NameTag users themselves? Will they be committing copyright infringement when they run these searches on photos they've copied from private sites? How would you even know that a NameTag user has snatched your photo and run a NameTag image search on it?

      So many questions. I'll go learn me up some, maybe get a law degree focusing on copyrights, and reconsider the question in a few years.

      In the meantime, any copyright experts out there who'd like to weigh in?

    • Lisa Vaas · 256 days ago

      It's a good question, but I'll top it off with a zillion related questions. Copyright law is complicated. I'm sitting here right now talking to somebody who knows about it, and my head is fuzzy with talk of robot.txt (search the term) and DCMA takedown notices for unfair usage.

      Takedown notices. OK, send takedown notices to whom? to NameTag? they aren't crawling the dating sites, though. It's their users who will be able to copy a private image and submit it to NameTag for facial recognition, which makes NameTag more of a broker, the same as Google is when you do an image search, yes?

      OK, so what's the difference between a Google search and a NameTag search? Google has limits on what returns they'll give on a search, I'm told. Robots.txt directories list certain content as private, which Google recognizes. Does NameTag recognize the same designation of content as private?

      What about the NameTag users themselves? Will they be committing copyright infringement when they run these searches on photos they've copied from private sites? How would you even know that a NameTag user has snatched your photo and run a NameTag image search on it?

      So many questions. I'll go learn me up some, maybe get a law degree focusing on copyrights, and reconsider the question in a few years.

      In the meantime, any copyright experts out there who'd like to weigh in?

  3. Anon · 256 days ago

    Never mind big brother, big stranger will be even scarier with someone across the bar profiling you before you even know it.

    It takes greedy advertisers (google, myface etc.) to unleash hell on unsuspecting sheeple.

  4. Adam · 256 days ago

    It would be interesting and scary if they were able to pull criminal background information on people so while you're riding the metro to work in the morning you can see who all have a criminal history.

  5. It's all a big game · 254 days ago

    Wait until GOOGLE GLASS becomes mainstream. EVERYONE will be tagged. Especially non-users, maybe more so because they don't have the technology. If I were a tech giant, or at least a clever hobbist, I would be constructing 'fake' Google Glasses which do not work, but the world around you would assume it does and you're one of them.

    In the future, it could be forced, remember Wesley Crusher in the ST:TNG episode, 'The Game'.

  6. If it comes to banning nosey corporates, online, in my country, so be it. The seeds have already been sown by the NSA, GCHQ, et al !

  7. taralynnb · 235 days ago

    And what about if someone is impersonating/smearing (and black-hat search-optimising her own smear profiles/posts of) you online?

    I am dealing with this situation now: A psychopath stalker, who was formerly my supervisor, but forced me (& my husband) to leave our jobs via workplace bullying and mobbing, then embarked on an online-impersonation and smear campaign.

    As a tech-team leader, she has strong web/tech skills.

    She even tricked us into downloading spyware onto our mobile devices, via cross site scripting, on an impersonated blog of my husband. Of course we were going to look at what was posted, assuming the content, not the code behind it, was what we needed to capture (to prove her crimes). But then, our devices were infected with her malware. Hindsight...

    Anyway... what happens when, for example, my real info gets all mixed up with my stalker's imposter profiles of me, all aggregated within apps like this?

    Targets of crimes, and stalkers, like this .... are essentially sitting ducks. I have already seen the effects in search aggregators and advertiser data.

    For example, as I surf the web, I am served ads that relate to heinous keywords the stalker associated with me, to smear me, because advertiser-databases 'think' these are MY interests! Also, her IMPOSTER email address as me, appears with my REAL data, in aggregators like Spokeo. AND... her smear/fake facebook profile of me, where SHE chose to disclose pvt data about me publicly -- info I elected to share only to friends -- actually surpasses search results for my own, long-established, but well-secured, Facebook profile. Why? Because SHE shared MY private info online, whereas I secured that same info.

    I wanted to retweet an article that relates to scraping of personal data, but i decided, due to this stalking, that I better not retweet it because the llink to this article appeared in the sidebar. I knew that, anything I share publicly, will almost immediately be seen by the stalker and scrutinized, and that an app like this would immediately be downloaded by my stalker (IF she doesnt already have it, which is a huge possibility). As a stalking and online-impersonation target, I fear apps like this.

    The ONLY good i can see coming from this app, is if targets can somehow be given the data, and working with aurhorities, can prove the stalker not only downloaded this app, but committed numerous other crimes; where the existence of apps like this, with other data of the stalker's behaviour, can be used as evidence to prove the stalking, id-theft and impersonation crimes, and finally get the stalking to stop!

  8. BlueCollarCritic · 230 days ago

    The "Its Public info only" is a false argument because you have no control over who catches your face oon an image while in public. If all they need to do is ay as long as the pic is made publc then whats to stop them from doing a Google Maps and sending out cars that do nothing but take public photos and upload the images?

  9. This is virtual bullying, a global like form of peer preasure pushed by these corporations like Google. Just because a certain percentage of the public is OK with loss of privacy that doesn't mean that Google or any other corporation gets to preassure me into participating with the argument that 'Everyone sles iss doing it" or the modern day equivelant "If its in the public domain". I have no control over how other may capture my face/person in public and or what they do with those images after. That doesn't mean I have opted in or am OK with it and yet thats the argument used by these corporate snakes.

    Any site, app, domain or entity that benefits and or whose primary purpose is the sharing of public images should not be allowed to share peoples images without explicit opt-in's from thosse people. Let those who like being facially recognized idicate as much by explicitly optig in and let the rest of us keep our constitutinally right to be secure in our persons. Going into public shouldn't mean you opt in automatically to having your image exploited.

  10. katydid · 227 days ago

    You should have to opt in, not be included by default. Also, what about children's safety? Do we want to give pedophiles the ability to access a child's name and interests by snapping their photo?

  11. JH · 200 days ago

    So you seem to be only concerned with women's privacy regarding this app (given the examples in the post). Why is that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.