Snapchat is testing the boundaries of computer vision technology—not so much in terms of sophistication as in its application.
For starters, the company faces a lawsuit over its alleged use of facial recognition technology through its social photo-sharing app’s “Lenses” feature, which overlays digital graphics upon a user’s face, such as putting a cat’s nose and whiskers over the user’s actual nose. The lawsuit, which has just been transferred to a federal court, argues that the system violates Illinois’ biometric privacy legislation, essentially because Snapchat failed to properly acquire consent for the collection of biometric data used in the feature.
It’s a similar allegation to those brought against Facebook for violating the same state legislation, but Snapchat denies that Lenses uses biometric technology at all. While Lenses is based on technology acquired from facial recognition startup Looksery, Snapchat says it’s used not to identify individual faces, but rather to track specific components of the face, such as the nose, eyes, etc. In other words, it’s computer vision technology, not biometric technology, according to Snapchat.
Along those lines, the company is meanwhile exploring technology that could allow its app to identify products in users’ photos, and to use that information for marketing. For example, a picture of a user’s new TV might prompt ads for streaming services or TV stands. It could also use object recognition to overlay digital filters: As The Verge reports, in a patent filing related to the technology, Snapchat offers the example of superimposing an image of King Kong onto a user’s photo of the Empire State Building. And companies could pay to offer branded filters, too, offering another way of commercializing the technology.
It’s the kind of computer vision technology that other companies such as Apple are also working on, aimed at enabling software to identify objects in user’s photos. Of course, some might argue that it’s a short step from identifying objects to identifying people, and much of the Lenses lawsuit will be about determining the difference.