But Facebook may only be getting started with its facial recognition services. The social network has applied for various patents, many of them still under consideration, which show how it could use the technology to track its online users in the real world.
One patent application, published last November, described a system that could detect consumers within stores and match those shoppers’ faces with their social networking profiles. Then it could analyze the characteristics of their friends, and other details, using the information to determine a “trust level” for each shopper. Consumers deemed “trustworthy” could be eligible for special treatment, like automatic access to merchandise in locked display cases, the document said. Another Facebook patent filing described how cameras near checkout counters could capture shoppers’ faces, match them with their social networking profiles and then send purchase confirmation messages to their phones.
In their F.T.C. complaint, privacy groups — led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research institution — said the patent filings showed how Facebook could make money from users’ faces. A previous EPIC complaint about Facebook helped precipitate a consent decree requiring the company to give users more control over their personal details.