NEW YORK - A Swedish startup is combining software and humans to help make
photos and other images more easily searchable online, raising privacy concerns
as the technology eases the tracking of people across Web sites.
Traditionally, search engines analyze text surrounding an image on a Web
site. So a search for " Bill Gates" might produce a photograph captioned with
the name of the Microsoft Corp. chairman. But a search for a reporter's name
might produce that same photograph if it had accompanied an article he had
Polar Rose AB is bringing facial-recognition technology to the mix. Its
software scans everyday images for about 90 different attributes. If the
software finds a match with images in a database, it concludes the two photos
are of the same person.
The company, among many startups seeking to improve image search, believes
its technology is noteworthy because it creates 3-D renditions of faces in
images, allowing the computer to account for slight variations in angles and
Nikolaj Nyholm, the company's chief executive, said testing has shown up to
95 percent reliability with sets of 10,000 photos. But he said that as the
collection grows ¡ª there are millions, perhaps billions, of photographs on the
Internet ¡ª reliability diminishes because, well, many people simply look alike.
That's where humans come in. In early 2007, the company will distribute free
plug-ins for Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox browsers.
People who post or view photos could add information such as names; there might
be the occasional error, but enough people filling in the correct answer would
make that rise to the top.
The idea is to label every face, even ones in the background, whether posted
on a Web journal, a photo-sharing site like Yahoo Inc.'s Flickr or a
social-networking hangout like News Corp.'s MySpace. The service won't index
images on personal computers or password-protected sites.
Polar Rose plans to sell ads and premium services but won't charge for the
basic use of its plug-ins or search engine, which is still in a "beta" test
But there's still a cost: privacy.