Facebook Buys Face.com: At What Privacy Cost?

Face.com's facial recognition technology will give Facebook users quicker and easier photo tagging abilities, but privacy concerns come along for the ride.

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10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends

10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Tagging photos on Facebook may get easier now that the social networking company has purchased facial recognition company Face.com.

According to TechCrunch, Facebook is paying between $55 million and $60 million, in a mix of cash and stock, for the like-named startup. (The acquisition price was originally thought to be $100 million.) The acquisition lines up nicely--if not quite as expensively--with Facebook's $1 billion purchase of mobile photo-sharing app Instagram, as well as with its announcement of the Facebook Camera app.

Face.com's facial recognition technology can identify faces even when conditions are poor, such as when lighting is low. Using the company's REST-based API, developers can build apps based on the technology.

It would appear from a blog on Face.com's site that support for the developer community will continue. "Now, lots of developers use Face.com technology to power various apps and make wonderful products," said Face.com CEO Gil Hirsch in a Monday post. "We love you guys, and the plan is to continue to support our developer community. If there are new developments you can expect to hear from us here, on the developer blog, and through our developer newsletter."

The comments on Hirsch's post reference several apps built using Face.com technology and reflect hope that Face.com will continue its "special relationship with developers." (One commenter posits that Facebook is actually buying the like-named Face for another reason: "You know the only reason they bought this site is cause of misdirected traffic.")

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In a statement, Facebook said, "People who use Facebook enjoy sharing photos and memories with their friends, and Face.com's technology has helped to provide the best photo experience. This transaction simply brings a world-class team and a long-time technology vendor in house."

The acquisition will no doubt make it easier for Facebook users to identify people in photos and video, especially on mobile devices. Businesses may benefit by being able to more quickly and easily monitor how, when, and where their products are being talked about and promoted, especially with the rise of social sharing sites like Pinterest.

But photo tagging--especially as it becomes easier to do--also brings up huge privacy concerns. Facebook's page on photo tagging provides advice to users on how to limit or eliminate visibility of photos they are tagged in, as well as on how to remove tags, but the process can quickly become complicated and hard to keep up with. Businesses must take care to ensure that increased use of tagging does not result in increased privacy concerns for customers.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller at @debdonston.

New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)

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