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Web stalkers to get face search plug-in

Polar Rose dodges thorny issues

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Opinion If privacy campaigners think the internet has given them stomach ulcers, they ain't seen the latest in facial recognition web search yet.

The idea is that you can snap a picture of someone with, say, your mobile phone, stick it on your computer and use it to search the web for other pictures of the same person.

Using a system being developed by Polar Rose, you might also discover who they are, where they live, and what other people have to say about them. An upcoming plug-in will allow you to do this with any image on the web.

Mikkel Thagaard, Polar's vice president of business development, told The Register he was planning to let people get at this sort of information straight over their mobile phones.

Stalkers, muggers and pointy-nosed predators of all ilks might have a field day with it. Even nosey neighbours, curtain twitchers, and weekend vigilantes should be rubbing their hands when they hear about this one.

And there are plenty of innocent applications for this sort of tool. The firm is trying to persuade dating and photo sharing web sites to incorporate its facial-search software into their services. These deals would help populate the facial database on which Polar's success is dependent. Polar requires users to add textual descriptors, wiki-style, to photos they find using its software. Those tagged images could then be used as the backbone of a contextual advertisement server, which will serve up the money to pay Polar's investors.

There is a proviso, however, which is that Polar have to generate enough interest in their products to build a database of images large enough to make this snap and tag operation work, and to satisfy the investors who gave them $5.1m of funding in November.

Nikolaj Nyholm, CEO of Polar Rose, said he had consulted privacy lawyers before setting the launch of his first product at the end of this month. We presume they gave him a big fat green light.

He said was not ignorant of the implications his software might have for privacy, but couldn't do much about it either.

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