Know the potential of face detection technology (other than selfies)

July 26, 20184 Minute Read

It’s difficult to say that anything could disrupt and inherently disruptive industry like social media, but one could make the argument that Snapchat has disrupted old stalwarts like Facebook and Twitter, with young people making up a large portion of its demographics. Its meteoric success, is probably partially due to the alluring secrecy of its timed messaging system, but Snapchat’s addictive face detection technology can’t be overlooked.

Face-changing filters have put moustaches on moms and top-hats on dogs, but with so many copycats out there, Snapchat’s no fool. To keep its edge in an extremely new space, it’ll have to keep innovating with this technology. Of course, its much wealthier competitors—like Facebook and Google—understand this all too well.

With all of this competition, the next few years are going to be a time of incredible advancement for facial recognition technology in social media. With Snapchat (not to mention the unlocking feature on the latest iPhone) demonstrating just how far facial recognition has come, you can bet that all future advancements are going to blow traditional social media applications out of the water.

Up your selfie game

Researchers from the University of Waterloo recently unveiled a new software tech that can analyze your selfies and suggest better selfie-snagging techniques that, in the words of Derek Zoolander, will make you “really, really, ridiculously good-looking.” The idea of suggesting better personal habits through image analysis fits more with an overall lifestyle brand like Facebook or Google than a messaging app like Snapchat or Twitter, but the willingness to use facial recognition in new ways is universal.

To get a feeling for the enormity of the potential here, just think about what can be communicated through a photo of a face. Of course, they show other people what we look like, but they can also show what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment of the photo. Apps with facial recognition technology could potentially estimate the emotion being felt by the subject of a photo and adjust their user experience, making social media a whole different ballgame.

Cash in on face detection technology

As selfies become more diverse and useful, they’ll also become more acceptable in a wider variety of contexts. Soon, your selfie might make its way onto the dinner table, into the movie theatre, and even into the office without the slightest stigma. They used to be just a way send your friends a funny expression or show how a freezie turned your tongue blue, but they’re becoming an increasingly legitimate form of communication.

We all know that new forms of communication mean new sources of revenue, and companies that thrive on user insight will jump at the chance to apply a host of new face-based services. Sure, they want to give their users fun and useful new tools, but their real goal is to collect as much information about their users as possible. They’ll turn that info around to make their other, parallel services better and more targeted, or they’ll anonymize that data and sell it as a truly next-gen form of market research.

Innovators: victims of their own success?

So, what has Snapchat taught us? Don’t hang your hat on face recognition technology.

Let’s face it, it can be copied fairly easily. Machine learning techniques can create advanced algorithms in the blink of an eye, which means that existing technologies are much easier for big companies to reproduce than those that were the product of individual human inspiration. Snapchat may have had the visionaries in design, marketing, and software engineering, but the app’s competitors managed to come up with their own versions of virtually all the same features in a matter of months.

Here’s the scary part: Face detection technology can be used on photos other than selfies to maliciously mark up a person’s face, learn about them and their personal lives, or even assist in identity theft. Want to avoid this? Then anyone, or any company, who wants to take advantage of this trend will have to make sure they’ve taken steps to make it difficult to abuse. It’ll become one more place area of data security you need to watch out for. In the end, the public will hold companies accountable for whether or not they’ve made efforts to prevent abuses of their technology.

From your personal phone to entertainment news and all the way to the Oval Office, selfies are everywhere. They may feel like they’ve been around forever, but what’s really difficult to comprehend is that the face tracking revolution powering the trend has really only just begun. It’s up to a designer’s creativity, rather than their technical sophistication, to get the most out of it.

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