POSTED BY Bridget Sarpu
Many people have attended events where they must sport the “Hello, My Name is…” nametags, in order for other guests to be able to easily identify one another. With new advancements in technology, traditional nametags may be obsolete, replaced with a much creepier, smartphone or Google Glass application.
NameTag is a new facial recognition app that lets users scan faces of strangers and match the face to the owner’s online and public record. If NameTag successfully locates the owner’s face online, it retrieves any public information and presents it to the user of the application. Information can include full name, relationship status, school attended, current occupation, interests, and more. According to a recent press release, NameTag also will be able to scan a face through the National Sex Offender Registry and can tell a user the criminal records of individual. Soon, people may not need traditional nametags if they can just scan a person’s face and receive all available information on their smartphone.
The app, developed by FacialNetwork.com, is available for iOS and Android devices and is believed to be available soon for Google Glass. Specifically, NameTag sends photographs wirelessly to a server, compares the photographs to millions of records and in seconds returns a match complete with a name, additional photos, and social medial profiles. Technology is already being developed to allow the scanning of profile photos from dating sites such as Match.com, PlentyOfFish.com, and OkCupid.com. For added peace of mind, the user can also cross-reference the photos against more than 450,000 entries in the National Sex Offender Registry. Other criminal databases are perused and report information such as online court records. Once the application gathers all the details of the scanned face, it not only presents the information to the user who originally scanned the face but then it uploads them to FacialNetwork.com’s database for future easy access.
Kevin Alan Tussy, NameTag’s creator, claims to have developed the app for the purpose of safety. He believes there is an added benefit of giving users an easy way to learn more about their future friends, coworkers, or dates, creating an instant connection based on mutual interests or hobbies. Tussy said in a statement, “It is much easier to meet interesting new people when we can simply look at someone, see their Facebook, review their LinkedIn page or maybe even see their dating site profile. Often we were interacting with people blindly or not interacting at all.”
The app is not officially sanctioned Glassware, applications accepted on Google’s new Glass wearable technology. Google has made clear that it is against their developer policies to approve any Glassware that has any sort of facial recognition technology. Therefore, Google will not make NameTag available through the company’s official channels. However, it could still be possible for the FacialNetwork.com to distribute the app themselves, and have users side load it. Plus, individuals using Glass could potentially “jailbreak” the technology and upload NameTag and begin to use it on a daily basis. Obviously, the issue of facial recognition has led some serious fears over the invasion of privacy, especially if the app could be used with Google Glass.
Invasion of privacy is a serious issue regarding NameTag and other application using facial recognition software. Legal and moral issues aside, NameTag says that their goal is not to invade user privacy. Tussy believes issues with privacy can be solved by having users sign up and create profiles on NameTag and choose to not have their profile shown in public searches. He states, “It’s not about invading anyone’s privacy; it’s about connecting people that want to be connected. We will even allow users to have one profile that is seen during business hours and another that is only seen in social situations.” So, if a person does not want their information made available, they can actively sign on to NameTag and opt-out of the service. However, one has to know about the service in order to opt-out. Otherwise, people using the app can scan your face randomly when you walk pass them on the street. One argument is that it should be up to the person whether to opt-in to the service, not opt-out. That way, an individual would first need to create a profile and agree to have their information shared to the outside world.
Other privacy issues concerns question whether NameTag’s ability to access sex offender registries is a good thing. Sex offender lists are publicly accessible but some advocates conclude that public sex registries do not increase public safety. According to Kieran Mccartan, an associate professor in criminology at the University of the West of England, is one who questions whether access to such registries will harm social relationships, instead of build them. In an article in the Conversation, Mccartan writes, “The notion that you can check whether a new partner has offending history suggests a less trusting and more suspicious approach to relationships, as well as an attempt to foresee and future-proof any potential problems.” Mccartan also question database maintenance, accuracy and reliability in the use of apps like NameTag. Instead of relying on an app, people should ask their date those pressing questions and base their future on those answers. NameTag’s angle is the program will help enhance people’s social lives and potentially protect individuals who want to know if someone is registered as a sex offender before engaging with them or allowing their children to be near them.
Individuals are not standing by and waiting for apps like NameTag to hit the market, some are taking action. U.S. Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, recently send a letter to FacialNetwork.com. In the letter he expresses his concerns with NameTag, noting that NameTag lets strangers get a broad range of personal information, done without the person’s knowledge or consent, which crosses a bright line for privacy and personal safety. Senator Franken concluded his letter by asking numerous questions regarding NameTag. Questions include whether NameTag will administer an opt-in program, rather than an opt-out program, how NameTag plans on addressing users who may be stalkers, how NameTag is addressing Google’s prohibition on facial recognition software for Glass, etc. The majority of questions come down to whether publicly available data should be easily accessed by others. One argument is that if a person chooses to post pictures on Facebook for everyone to see, he should not complain if others access the information. On the flipside, the opposing argument is individuals do not realize that by uploading their photos to Facebook they may be subjecting themselves to other outside program access.
Although there is plenty of excitement for future technologies like Google Glass, apps capable of using facial recognition software like NameTag will continue to alarm society. Sure, smartphones have cameras that where people could take pictures of strangers without their knowledge but the easy of accessibility of public information with a simple click can be disturbing. NameTag is only in the beta version and not ready for public distribution but the end result is inevitable and society will quickly be forced to wonder who is scanning their faces and what information is readily available for all to see.
 Press Release, FacialNetwork.com Announces Beta Release of “NameTag” the First Real-Time Facial Recognition App for Google Glass, http://www.nametag.ws/.
 Kieran Mccartan, The App that Checks Whether Your Date is a Sex Offender, The Conversation (Jan. 13, 2014), http://theconversation.com/the-app-that-checks-whether-your-date-is-a-sex-offender-21941.