Facebook recruits Israel’s face.com

Israeli-developed face-recognition technology is incorporated into Facebook's photo-sharing capabilities and is helping it compete with Google.

July 28, 2011 05:32
3 minute read.
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facebook logo311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Over the past few months the competition between Google and Facebook has become fierce. On one side of the arena is the Internet giant that feels as if the younger competitor is destroying the ground it built and the business environment it nurtured.

The move of talented young individuals from Google to Facebook, alongside the rising popularity of the world’s most popular social-networking website, led Google to launch Google+, a social network to compete with Facebook, which has attracted 20 million users within a few weeks.

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A new front was opened in the struggle between the sides when Google this past weekend acquired PittPatt, which specializes in developing face-recognition technology. Google already acquired Neve Vision in 2006, which also operates in this field, and integrated this identification technology for tagging pictures and faces in Picasa. However, the acquisition of PittPatt is an additional source of strength and technology that will facilitate the integration of face recognition into profiles and photo albums on Google+. This was Google’s 100th acquisition.

Facebook did not sit by idly. Instead, it has integrated the face-recognition technology developed by Israeli start-up face.com into its photo-sharing capabilities. This will allow the 750 million users of this social network to tag and identify friends’ photos.

Founded in 2007, face.com has so far raised $6 million from Daniel Recanati, Rhodium and Yandex, Russia’s largest search-engine company.

The company’s founders are CEO Gil Hirsch, CTO Yaniv Taigman, chairman Moti Shniberg and Genesis Partners partner Eden Shochat. In the past, it was believed that the close cooperation between face.com and Facebook would lead to a buyout or an investment. But this has not yet taken place.

The acquisition of PittPatt took place a year after Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced that the company was wary about entering the facial-recognition field out of a concern for users’ privacy. What bothered Google then was not just the privacy issue, but the concern that while they were taking protective steps, their competition would capture most of the market share.

And this is exactly what the competition did. In the meantime, Facebook and Apple pounced on the sizzling field of face recognition, and Apple acquired Sweden-based Polar Rose for $30m. last fall. Facebook, as well as Yahoo!’s photo-management and -sharing application Flickr, use Polar Rose’s face-recognition application.

“There is not one mobile manufacturer that would not be interested in this type of technology,” Polar Rose CEO Carl Silbersky told the Financial Times. “There are hundreds of millions of mobile phones with cameras. The mobile companies are looking for ways to encourage phone owners to use them, and this is one way.”

And so, as the race to become technologically equipped is at its height, the question arises: Were Schmidt’s concerns over users’ privacy real?

We can also ask this about developments in Israel. And if we judge by a joint venture between face.com, Coca-Cola Israel and the advertising agency Idealogic, the answer is that young social-network users are not bothered.

As part of Coca-Cola’s summer events, the three companies launched a “Like” machine based on a camera that recognizes users’ faces. After the initial photo, the machine recognizes the person, so that a quick glance at the camera is enough to “check in” and post the photo on Facebook users’ personal wall.

If these young people are standing in line at the Like machine of their own free will and sharing their facial features with a commercial company such as Coca-Cola, it appears that the time is ripe for the struggle between technology companies over control of the facial-recognition technologies to continue.

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