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How Russia’s New Facial Recognition App Could End Anonymity


Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a stranger pointing his phone in your direction. The next day, you get an email from someone claiming to have seen you at the coffee shop. He’s asking you on a date. You have no idea how he got your contact information, let alone how he identified you.

The power to identify total strangers on the street is the advertising pitch for a new wave of startups hoping to capitalize on rapidly advancing facial recognition technology. But in Russia, it’s already a reality.

FindFace, an app launched by a Russian startup two months ago, lets its usersidentify strangers from pictures of their faces. It does so by matching the photos against profile pictures from VK—also known as VKontakte—a Russian social networking website similar to Facebook. Its founders have touted the app as great for building friendships or starting relationships with strangers. But the privacy risks are enormous.

Since the launch, many news outlets have asked whether similar products are coming to the United States. But the real threat isn’t that an app like FindFace will come to a social network like Facebook. It’s that it may soon be applied to countless other databases of photos, like campus directories and employee lists—or even the entire Internet.

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