Image and Facial Recognition Set To Infiltrate Our Daily Lives

We are in the process of a transformational shift from text to visual media in our online world.  Younger generations have embraced photo sharing with a passion, preferring to express themselves visually rather than with the written word. Video content is experiencing massive growth online and via mobile devices and user-generated content on social networks is increasingly visual in nature.  It’s no surprise then some of the most important advances in web and online technology are occurring in the areas of image and facial recognition.  The ability of computers to recognise people, things and places is increasing by the day.  We should expect to see image and facial recognition infiltrate our daily lives, creeping into daily activities like opening a door, signing into online banking, meeting friends, going shopping, or buying products online.

Google has recently acquired image recognition startup – Jetpac which creates personality profiles based on the images that Instagram and Facebook users share on social media.  It then matches types of people with the locations they frequent, identifies places that are popular with certain types such as foodies, students or business travelers.

As a result Jetpac has algorithmically created more than 6000 city guides, include all sorts of information gleaned from clever interpretation of the images it scans.  For example the Top 10 places to go are based on how happy people look in the pictures they post from there! The Jetpac app can even scan your friends’ Facebook photos and tell you where they had the most fun.

Jetpac screengrab

Google recently bought Jetpac, an app which analyses photos on social media to create city guides.

This unique use of facial recognition software is probably what interests Google, who plan to immediately shutdown Jetpac’s IOS app.  There is much speculation around what Google intends to do with the Jetpac technology, including the idea that they might augment the new photo-related features that have been added to Google+.  Google’s new Stories feature automatically scans your photos and creates shareable stories based on where you’ve been and what you’ve done.  Apart from evaluating time stamps and geotag data, the service also scans to see if your photos include any recognisable landmarks. With advanced image recognition, this could become increasingly sophisticated.

Search results including places of interest in Google Maps or Google Now could also benefit from Jetpac technology.  The accuracy of image search, or of customer searches of their own photos could be greatly improved as well.

Brands are starting to recognise the opportunity to connect with their customers on an even more personal level.  The beauty sector is an obvious target, with facial recognition offering customers the chance to virtually test and visualise the impact of make-up and skin care products. L’Oreal recently claimed it was considering the use of facial recognition software to personalise make up shades to a customer’s skin tone. In a slightly less obvious scenario,  finance company Merrill Edge created a campaign called Face Retirement in which they used facial recognition and age modeling to show customers what they would look like at retirement age.  Apparently customers visualizing their older selves are more likely to consider their retirement!

Merrill Face Retirement

The Merrill Edge campaign showed customers what they’d look like in retirement.

Cameras are embedded in most smartphones these days, and images can be analysed within an app or uploaded to mobile wesbites in real time, so practical image recognition is already at customers’ fingertips.  According to this recent article from Mobile Marketerl, brands such as Gap and Target have begun using image recognition to enhance the shopping experience. Also discussed, is the prediction that our faces will soon become our main form of identity verification and security.

With image recognition customers can use their phone intuitively to take photographs of actual images or products rather than QR codes or barcodes.  Brands will be able to use the technology to serve up product information or allow customers to purchase the photographed product online.

Image Recognition is particularly useful for create connections between Print and Outdoor media and mobile content.  Newspaper and magazine ads, editorial content, bus shelters and ads on public transport could be scanned to link customers to further information or carry out transactions on the spot. Target in the U.S. has introduced image recognition to their app which now lets users scan images in homewares magazines and add them to a shopping cart for immediate purchase.  Of course, image recognition takes the controversial practice of showrooming to a whole other level. With image recognition, customers can upload snaps taken in-store to a comparison app with a single click, giving competitors a chance to offer cheaper or better alternatives.

Naturally, when dealing with something as unambiguously personal and identifiable as your facial features, a technology like facial recognition carries an enormous privacy risk.  So much so that even Google is treading cautiously, banning any Google Glass apps that use facial recognition technology.  Ultimately it’s purely a symbolic measure than a reflection of reality, as developers are already creating facial recognition apps and loading them up to Google Glass without permission – called ‘side loading’.   While this has obviously not gone unnoticed, the fact remains that Google understand the risk of community backlash and are approaching the transition to this new technology with caution.


The idea that Google Glasses could scan a person’s face and then serve up their name and personal information terrifies many privacy advocates.

In Australia, facial recognition is covered by privacy laws, and marketers risk million dollar fines if they misuse personal information for marketing purposes.  As with other, less cutting-edge technologies, customers need to be notified when their personal data is collected and used, and they need to be able to opt out.

Used thoughtfully, and with respect for the privacy of individuals, image and facial recognition software represent exciting opportunities for brands and marketers. Ad Age recently shared a selection of campaigns that have broken ground in the use of facial recognition in their marketing mix, and the internet is awash with stories talking about the possibilities with image recognition in retail.  This article talks about some of the brands using ASAP54, a clothing and fashion recognition app that lets customers take a picture of an item of clothing and be linked to a retailer who sells it. As with any new technology it’s the players that get in first and trial the possibilities that reap the rewards down the track.  With big brands like Gap, Nike Coke, Target, Amazon, McDonalds, L’Oreal, Virgin Mobile and Volkswagon, already dipping their toes in the water, it might be time for local business to make a splash as well.

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