Why CNN’s Google Facial Recognition Story Sucked

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Yesterday CNN's Mark Milian wrote "Google is working on a mobile application that would allow users to snap pictures of people's faces in order to access their personal information," without saying that the Google Goggles product has been in development for the last two years. I know because I wrote about it having facial recognition capabilities in 2009. From my old article:

Sure, it can be used to comparison shop online and provided its accuracy is high, it may even simplify shipping and receiving. For those of you who long to be spies or stalkers, the latest technology may also be able to help you. Although developers say there's no business use for facial recognition, Goggles still has the capability. . . . Is this fodder for potential stalkers or merely a way to find a good Italian restaurant? Unfortunately, it can be both.

Google has since denied and attempted to discredit Milian's story, "In fact, we are NOT 'introducing a mobile application' (as  the CNN piece claims)  and as we've said for over a year, we would NOT add face recognition to any app like Goggles unless there was a strong privacy model in place. A number of items 'reported' in the story, such as a potential app connecting phone numbers, email addresses and other information with a person's face, are purely speculative and are inventions of the reporter."

There's been some back-and-forth from both Google and CNN based on the reporting of the story, with Milian complaining about Google's splitting hairs over "semantics." But the reality is that the story wasn't that good. Milian had an exclusive interview with a Google engineer who's heading the alleged facial recognition project and apparently didn't ask him why facial recognition was necessary and what possible greater good it would serve. He had two sources in the entire story, the engineer and one woman from USC who studies online privacy -- not enough to provide background or context to the story.

Aside from that, he didn't really explain how the tool, Google Goggles, functions and its purpose (which is to search by image instead of text) and relied heavily on generalizations -- dangerous with only two sources in an article.

Do I believe Google has facial-recognition software? Certainly, but any rollout will be under intense scrutiny by the federal government as well as privacy groups, so it's unlikely it will happen any time this year -- not when Google's just finished a battle with the FTC.

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