Face.com pulls in $4.3M in financing

Faith Merino · September 27, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/1214

Rhodium and Yandex bet on the Israeli-based facial-recognition startup

How recognizable are you in a crowd?  According to Face.com, a Tel-Aviv-based company that develops facial recognition technology, you can be pinpointed in a Facebook crowd consisting of 500 million users and 7 billion pictures with 90% accuracy.  Evidently, several investors believe that that is no mean feat, and they are showing their support by pouring funds into the Israeli startup. 

Face.com announced Monday that it has raised $4.3 million in a series B round of funding led by previous investor Rhodium and Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine.  Considered the “Google of Russia,” this round of financing marks the first time that Yandex has invested in an Israeli company. Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh has joined Face.com’s board of directors.

Founded in 2007 and launched publicly in 2009, the startup’s technology works by developing an algorithm of the face and the arrangement of the features, thereby making it possible to identify a single face out of a sea of photos online.  Between the company’s two Facebook apps, Photo Finder and Photo Tagger, it has scanned no less than 7 billion images and identified 56 million faces.  Photo Finder alone tagged 400 million photos in its first month.

In May, the company - which has raised $5.3 million in total funds - launched a developer community and an open API, to allow third party developers to tap into Face.com’s facial recognition technology to develop their own facial recognition apps.  Some recent apps have included Celeb-Finder/Twitterazzi, which allows Internet users to scan for celebrity photos on Twitter, Poster Yourself, which allows users to upload pictures of themselves or friends and plug faces into popular posters, and Tagger Widget, which automatically places tags on people’s faces in photographs to allow users to easily add names.

Face.com was not available to comment on the round of financing, but CEO Gil Hirsh stated in the company blog:

“Face.com has accepted a round of funding.  The total amount is $4.3M USD, and the participants included Rhodium, Yandex, and current private investors.  We’re going to use the money to boost our development team, hire some new and talented people, and build out additional infrastructure to support our facial recognition platform.”

Other visual-recognition players

Face.com is not the only player on the facial recognition tech field.  Last week, Apple bought the Swedish startup Polar Rose for a rumored $29 million for use on the Mac and iPhone.  Polar Rose, which also specialized in facial-recognition technology, was previously majority owned by Danish private equity fund Nordic Venture Partners before Apple took over the entire shareholding. Like.com, formerly Riya, started out as one of the first facial-recognition companies back in 2006. Its software was to be used to organize photos.

But because there wasn't an apparent commerical market for that application, Riya turned into Like.com and became a visual shopping engine.

Beyond the commercial viability of Face.com, some privacy advocates are concerned about the technology, which, according to Face.com, can use its facial recognition algorithm to scour the Web and dig up untagged photos previously unseen by the identified person.  Such technology has previously only been used by governmental bodies.

“You can basically search for people in any photo,” said Gil Hirsh to Telegraph.  “You could search for family members on Flickr, in newspapers, or in videos on YouTube.”

Humanitarian groups that have come out in support of public use of the technology have said that it can be used to locate individuals that have been lost in major disasters and help reunite families.

Simon Davies, Director of Privacy International, expressed less enthusiasm about the technology.   “The regulators have been hugely behind the curve on protecting people’s privacy on the internet,” Davies told Telegraph. “We need to push for much tighter international rules.”

Image source: Dailymail.co.uk

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