Google won't release awesome facial recognition app

Privacy concerns prompt Google to delay release and "figure out" how to handle handy -- and a bit unnerving -- technology.

Google has created a facial recognition app that can provide all kinds of personal information on the people around you, but says it's not releasing the technology due to privacy concerns.

CNN reported that facial recognition would be a part of Google Goggles, an existing feature of Google's Search app that uses smartphone cameras to recognize objects, scan barcodes, translate text and even solve Sudoku puzzles. The facial recognition feature can associate people with social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and provide other publicly-available information.

Although Google has no release timeline for the feature, it has begun to figure out how to address privacy concerns, CNN reports, including an opt-in system that would only recognize people who allowed it.

That's where things get a bit messy.

After CNN's report, Google said the privacy details were based on inaccurate conjecture and demanded a retraction. "As we've said for over a year, we won't add face recognition to Goggles unless we can figure out a strong privacy model for it," Google said in a statement to Search Engine Land. "We haven't figured it out."

CNN stands by the story, noting that the interview with Hartmut Neven, a Google engineering director, was on the record with a public relations representative present. "Additionally, we have an audio recording of the interview, as does Google," CNN says.

Let's parse this back and forth. Google doesn't deny that it has developed the facial recognition feature. The company is merely saying that it won't release the technology unless it can address privacy concerns. But CNN's story doesn't say that Google is releasing the technology. In fact, it says that there's no release timeline, and that Google has only begun to establish how the privacy element would work. The wording of Google's statement ("We haven't figured it out") even suggests that the company is still interested in finding a solution.

Perhaps Google is disputing CNN's claim users would have to opt in to the feature, but I doubt it. As part of Google's recent settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over Google Buzz, the company must now ask users to opt in before sharing their information. If Google ever released facial recognition for Google Goggles, I'm sure the terms of the FTC settlement would come into play.

Despite Google's attempts to spin the story, I don't see any major errors on CNN's part; but either way, I hope the facial recognition feature sees the light of day. It may seem creepy, but think of all the times you've spotted someone across the room that you recognize, but whose name you can't remember. Facial recognition could be a useful tool if Google puts the right privacy safeguards in place. I hope the company figures it out.

Follow Jared on Facebook and Twitter as well as Today @ PCWorld for even more tech news and commentary.

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