Dubai police to use Google Glass for facial recognition

Despite Google's best efforts to keep facial recognition away from Glass, the two technologies are finding a way to work together.

Police officers in Dubai will soon be able to identify suspects wanted for crimes just by looking at them.

Using Google Glass and a custom-developed facial recognition software, Dubai police will be able to capture photos of people around them and search their faces in a database of people wanted for crimes, according to a recent Reuters report. When a match is made in the database, the Glass device will receive a notification.

Although the project will initially be rolled out to traffic police, the devices will eventually be given to detectives as well, according to Reuters.

Facial recognition for Glass seems like a dream tool for law enforcement, especially considering that Glass now provides native support for blink-enabled control of the camera. With the Wink feature, the Glass unit takes photos when the user winks. If police officers using the device choose to activate the Wink feature, they could take photos without using their hands or voice commands. Theoretically, everyone within the vicinity of a police officer could be subjected to a check for any connection to unpaid parking tickets or outstanding warrants, and they'll have no idea if their photos are being taken or their faces are being searched in a database.

What's particularly interesting about the project is that facial recognition technology is banned by the Google Glass developer policy. After a company called FacialNetwork showcased its own facial recognition app for Glass last year, Google clarified that the app violated its policy. The section of the policy that addresses such technology seems to disqualify the Dubai police force's plan for Glass:

Don't use the camera or microphone to cross-reference and immediately present personal information identifying anyone other than the user, including use cases such as facial recognition and voice print. Glassware that do this will not be approved at this time.

Google also addressed privacy concerns regarding facial recognition with Glass in March, mentioning it in a blog post debunking common myths about the technology.

Myth 5: Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things) Nope. That’s not true. As we’ve said before, regardless of technological feasibility, we made the decision based on feedback not to release or even distribute facial recognition Glassware unless we could properly address the many issues raised by that kind of feature. And just because a weird application is created, doesn’t mean it’ll get distributed in our MyGlass store. We manually approve all the apps that appear there and have several measures in place (from developer policies and screenlocks to warning interstitials) to help protect people’s security on the device.

The Dubai police force will reportedly use its own custom software for facial recognition and discovery in the database, so it’s unclear whether its application actually violates the Glass policy. If it does, though, Google might not be able to do anything about it. If the Dubai police force developed it only for internal use, then the software probably won't go near the MyGlass store. That blog post debunking the myth says that it will not "release or even distribute facial recognition Glassware." But if someone develops their own system and uses it independently, there's not much Google can do to stop it.

I've reached out to Google for clarification on how its facial recognition policy might apply to the reported project in Dubai, and will update this story when I hear back.

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