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Acquisition Could Help Google Combine Image Search And Facial Recognition

Google says it plans to use facial-recognition technology to improve its photo-organization tool. But the search giant may have more mind.

Google says it will implement facial-recognition technology in Picasa, its free photo-organizing tool that helps consumers search for pictures on their PCs. But don't bet on Google stopping there. The company may employ the technology, which it acquired by buying computer vision vendor Neven Vision, in its search engine.

Facial recognition is nothing new, having been used in identity verification tools and even cell phones. But analyst Charlene Li, who tracks Google for Forrester Research, says the technology is likely to be used in Google's people search tool. "It's going to lead to a lot of other things," she says. "They don't usually buy technology for one offering."

The only word from Google about the Neven Vision acquisition came from a blog posted last week on its Web site by Picasa product manager Adrian Graham. Among the 14 facial-recognition patent applications filed by Neven Vision founder Hartmut Neven is one for an image-based search engine that works on camera phones. It's not publicly known if Google acquired that technology. Google declined further comment, and Neven Vision's phone number has been disconnected.

Most photo search engines identify a picture by reading the metadata written by whoever posted the image. If the name of the pictured individual isn't in the metadata, then the image won't show up in a Web search for that person. But a search engine that incorporates facial-recognition technology could identify images with human-tagged metadata, analyze the facial features in those images, and then use that data to detect other pictures of that individual, whether on the desktop or the Web.

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