Ban on Facial-Recognition Apps by Google: Obstacle for WSN?

Some developers have expressed dissatisfaction on the news that Google has banned facial recognition for Glass application, thereby hindering doctors, police, and others in using the application for the betterment of future technology.

Google’s last week decision  announced on its Google+ page to ban both facial-recognition and voiceprint technology from its high-tech eyewear may have come from the recent pressureby the US Congress because of the notion that the technology will be tool for stalkers and hackers. But the decision is seen as not a good one because it also puts on hold some future innovation that could help medical practitioners to retrieve medical records.

gooAt a recent conference, a developer with passion, Lance Nanek demonstrated without the rigorous usage of Personal computer or mobile set, a medical facial-recognition Glass app he built that allocates Glass-wearing clinicians to authenticate someone’s identity and instantly bring up records on allergies or existing prescriptions when the patient faces was first entered into the system.

How this ban will affect developers is that under Google’s developer overview, they control what the display output of any application will be on Glass. This mean that Google could even block people from sending out a face photo, getting it recognized, and then seeing the results on Glass—even if a facial-recognition app isn’t directly written for Glass. It also implies that the company left open the possibility that future privacy-protection technologies might prompt a policy change.

All of this was a shame to developer Nanek. “Whenever I go to my doctor, they have to sit down in front of a computer, type in a bunch of stuff, bring up records, and scroll around,” he says. “The MDs who saw this were like, ‘Man, it would really help if I saw test results immediately, and saw the results when I looked at the patient. I could see if medications were conflicting.’ Anything that saves a little bit of time is worth a lot.”

‘It wouldn’t be good enough to use facial recognition on another type of device, Nanek says, because the clinician would still have to take multiple extra steps—snap a photograph, open an app to compare the photo to a database, and refer to the screen to see the resulting data.

Stephen Balaban, another developer and cofounder of Lambda Labs added that ‘Google’s decision to put the brakes on facial and voice recognition basically cuts off a major motivation to develop apps for the technology.

According to Balaban “My opinion is that face-recognition technology is core functionality, a core feature of the wearable computer. Whatever wearable computing platform becomes successful—whether it is Google Glass or something else—will have this functionality. In the long run, this decision is going to hurt the Glass ecosystem. They are creating a walled garden that won’t put people in a creative mind-set exploring this space. They’ll be thinking, ‘Will Google approve my application?’ “

In terms of fighting crime, instant facial recognition could also help police identify people on a most-wanted list updatable in real time and maybe using wireless sensor network technology, and people with neurological disorders who can’t recognize faces. “I’m pretty disappointed,” Nanek says.

“Right now, they aren’t saying this is a great new platform,” Balaban said. “They are saying this is a way to share photos with people on Google+. So they might be blindsided by another company whose focus is on a wearable computing platform, not a photo-sharing app for Google+.” Time will tell if the ban will also affect wireless sensor network development as tool for crime fighting.


Technology Review