[Update]: Google has reached out to remind us that it’s against their developer policies (section C.1.e) to approve Glassware that has any sort of facial recognition technology, and as such they will not be distributing the app through official channels. It could still be possible for the developer to distribute the app themselves and have users sideload it, but there is little chance such an app would get wide distribution.
We’ve seen our fair share of creepy apps, but this one probably takes the cake. It’s called NameTag, and in Robocop-like fashion, the app can scan a person’s face and compare it to a records database consisting of millions of people.
If NameTag successfully finds that person, it spits back tons of information about them, including their full name, their relationship status, what school they went to, their current occupation, their interests, and more. It’ll even tell you if that person has a criminal record.
It does all of this by searching various online social networking profiles for that person and pulling details from the profiles they may have filled out. It also pulls information from public records database, such as online court records in your city and state.
Upon gathering these details, they upload them to FacialNetwork.com‘s database without your permission. Don’t want your information made available? NameTag gives you the ability to opt-out, though we’d contend that something like this should be strictly opt-in.
Legal and moral issues aside, NameTag says that their goal isn’t to invade user privacy:
It’s about connecting people that want to be connected. We will even allow users to have one profile that is seen during business hours and another that is seen in social situations. NameTag can make the big, anonymous world we live in as friendly as a small town.
Except it should be up to that person whether or not they want to make their details known to strangers who happen to be wearing Google Glass and using this app. I know I’m not necessarily interested in talking to and meeting every single person I come across while I’m out and about. If they need to know more about me for whatever reason, they can come up to me, introduce themselves, and ask like normal human beings are supposed to.
NameTag’s angle is to enhance people’s social lives, but one might think up a few other cases where it might be useful. Perhaps you want to know if someone is registered as a sex offender before engaging them or allowing your children to be near them. That would be a noble use-case scenario, though some would contend that people should have a reasonable level of privacy no matter what they may have done in their life.
To be fair to NameTag, using public records and social networking profiles to craft reports about an individual are nothing new. Spokeo allows you to do this with as little as a name or email address, and gives you even more intimate information than NameTag claims to. That said, it’s not often that these types of services maintain their own database and use images to initiate a search for someone instead of their name or other details you might have access to.
We’re excited for the future of Google Glass, but apps like these will continue to come around and make us take a step back every now and then as we ponder how far is too far. Sure, our phones have cameras and would be capable of doing this with the right app (in fact, NameTag is planning on making iOS and Android apps of their own).
Still, it’s a lot more obvious when it’s being done with a smartphone, and there’s something about a camera that sits on your face that may or may not be taking your photo at any given time that makes something like NameTag a bit more uneasy to swallow. How do you feel?