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‘Too creepy even for Google’: Search engine boss warns governments against facial recognition technology

May 20, 2011

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Concerns: Google boss Eric Schmidt warned against facial recognition

Concerns: Google boss Eric Schmidt warned against facial recognition

The executive chairman of Google has warned governments against facial recognition technology – saying it is ‘too creepy’ even for the search engine.

Eric Schmidt said that the technology has advanced rapidly in recent years and that it could be rolled out across the internet.

But the controversial technique has angered privacy campaigners who claim that it would be a further erosion of privacy and civil liberties.

Now Schmidt has dispelled any suggestions that internet giant Google would be the first company to employ the system.

But he warned that there were likely to be other organisations who might ‘cross the line’ and use facial recognition.

Speaking today at Google’s Big Tent conference on internet privacy, technology and society, in Hertfordshire, Schmidt said that the accuracy of such technology was ‘very concerning’.

Facial recognition would work by scanning in a photograph of somebody’s face in order to potentially reveal personal information about them.

Crime fighters argue that it could be used to trace suspects who have been recorded on CCTV. But civil liberties groups say it is an invasion of privacy.

Mr Schmidt said that Google, which has been criticised in the past for gathering information, was ‘unlikely’ to employ facial recognition programs. 

Schmidt was responding to a question about coining the phrase ‘crossing the creepy line’ which he came up with for privacy issues.

But he said ‘some company by the way is going to cross that line’. Commentators suggested that Schmidt may have been referring to Facebook.

Controversial: Facial recognition could gather people's personal detailsControversial: Facial recognition could gather people’s personal details

The social-networking site was recently embroiled in controversy after it emerged that it paid PR chiefs to start a smear campaign against Google.

Facebook also used facial recognition programs which allow users to ‘tag’ photos of people that are uploaded to the site.

Mr Schmidt warned lawmakers not to prevent such services as it could hamper creativity and innovation.

‘Hopefully the French or any other country won’t pass laws that are so foolish they force Google to not be able to operate in those countries,’ he said according to the Telegraph.

‘Well-meaning people in government write something which is pretty broad and you have to be careful when you do this kind of regulation.’

Google has been criticised for its Street View service which has photographed hundreds of thousands of residential roads for its online map service.

A number of people were unwittingly captured in compromising positions and many more were upset that their photographs had been published online.

It also emerged last year that while the notorious black cars were driving around they gathered information about people’s personal internet connections.

Google apologised for the breach in privacy and said that the data would be deleted.

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