Facebook developed an internal facial recognition app that allowed users to scan peoples' faces and identify them. Images obtained by Motherboard now show what that app looked like.
Business Insider first reported the existence of Facebook's facial recognition app in November last year. The app, made between 2015 and 2016, was available to Facebook employees and was designed to recognize employees and their Facebook friends who had facial recognition settings enabled, Facebook told Motherboard. Facebook uses facial recognition for spotting users in photos uploaded by themselves or others.
In January, The New York Times revealed Clearview AI, a company that scraped social media networks, including Facebook, to develop its own app that when pointed at a subject's face could reveal their identity. The Facebook app, at least conceptually, worked similarly to Clearview; the Facebook app linked images of people to their Facebook profile.
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The app itself was barebones in appearance, with a distinctive Facebook blue bar at the top of the screen with the heading "Augmented Reality."
When pointed at an individual it could recognize and link an account to, the app presented a pop-up over the person's face saying "You are friends." When the app could not identify someone, it displayed the message "Unable to recognize :(," according to another screenshot obtained by Motherboard.
A Facebook spokesperson provided the same statement the company did in response to Business Insider's original piece.
"As a way to learn about new technologies, our teams regularly build apps to use internally. The app described here was only available to Facebook employees, and could only recognize employees and their friends who had face recognition enabled," the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Facebook added that the app was deprecated, and the purpose of the app was so employees could test out technologies internally. The company did not have the intention of releasing it publicly.
Facial recognition, and in particular apps that use the technology, are highly controversial at the moment. Like LinkedIn and Twitter, Facebook sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clearview demanding that the company stops scraping Facebook photos. BuzzFeed News found Clearview has not limited use of its tool to law enforcement agencies, but has also provided accounts to a wide range of businesses and individuals in the private sector.
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