A new app that’s currently taking Russia by storm is the stuff of digital nightmares for privacy and human rights advocates. The app, called FindFace, allows you to snap a photo of someone on the street and connect them to their online presence on social networks and government sites. It also works with crowds and has an overall reliability of 70%.
According to a Guardian report, the app has quickly become popular in the couple of months since it was released, with over 500,000 users downloading it. The app’s servers have processed more than 3 million requests in that time as FindFace matches users using Vkontakte’s database, a very popular social network in Russia and the former Soviet bloc.
The app’s creators envision a future where you can instantly know who anyone on the street is and what their interests are. The app has already been demonstrated to work on crowded subways and public places, so that future may not be far off.
And if that sounds scary, many privacy and human rights advocates agree. FindFace, and other apps like it, have the potential of destroying public anonymity and putting lots of people at risk. While its creators have allegedly received phone calls from police officers saying their app was used to apprehend criminals, FindFace has also been used to harass people on and offline.
Meanwhile, the founders intend for the algorithms behind the app to be the real money-maker. Being able to quickly and reliably parse and identify faces in huge databanks of images is a very sought after piece of tech. And Moscow’s local government knows this, which is why the city is in discussions with the FindFace creators to use their algorithm with the city’s network of 150,000 CCTV cameras.
Of course, that may sound Orwellian and signal the end of another piece of individuals' privacy, but keep in mind that governments and security agencies have already been able to do this for a while. Now it’s just easier and cheaper to do it, but Russia is known for its respect for privacy and human rights, so there’s probably no reason for concern.