Will 'Google Goggles' Soon Come to a Smartphone Near You?

Imagine the guy next to you at lunch pulling out his phone, snapping your picture and running a search to find out your name, online aliases and all the information about you via that image. More fiction than reality? Maybe not. A Google project that would put just that technology on your smartphone has reemerged in Europe, so could it be that far from your phone here in the United States?

Just as soon as Google Goggles, Google’s entrée into computer vision technology, was introduced in the United States in December 2009, the Internet giant reversed course and said it would delay implementing its facial recognition tool to consider the privacy implications.

But all indications, including newly revealed patents, show Google is pushing forward with the technology, including its potential as a search tool and a tie-in with social networking capabilities.

Google Goggles is a visual search application that lets users take pictures of objects such as landmarks, bridges, book covers and other two-dimensional objects. Google had previously declined to make facial recognition a part of Goggles due to the privacy concerns.

We know now a patent application, “Facial Recognition With Social Network Aiding,” that describes how the availability of social networking profile data can increase the accuracy of facial recognition was filed by Google in Europe last August and just published on February 10, 2011.

The technology, as described in the patent application, would allow users to check visual queries against images available in social networking, calendar and collaborative applications. The images obtained from those applications could then be compared for similarity to create a ranked list of possible identities to be used alongside other search-related data.

Google also more recently filed a patent for User Interface for Presenting Search Results for Multiple Regions of a Visual Query that involves visual search for smartphones. With this technology, Google could break your photo down into multiple pieces and search for each object within the picture, including facial recognition searches.

The patent applications come on the heels of Google acquisition of Like.com in August 2010. The site, a visual search engine for shopping, was previously called Riya, which used facial recognition technology to search images that users had uploaded and tagged.

When it comes to privacy, the elephant in the room of this technology, Google, ComputerWorld reports, has several possible scenarios: to send only one of the “identifiers” to the person searching; to possibly allow only the person identified to make the photo public, or to send a request after a person is positively identified, asking if the image can be a face search result for other people’s visual queries from within their social network.

Tell us what you think – should Google move forward with this technology? Do the benefits outweigh the privacy risks?

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