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How software meant for makeup could help spot terrorists

Posting in Government

Originally intended for the makeup counter, facial recognition software from a French startup can identify "people of concern."

A French startup in the beauty industry has caught the attention of its country’s government—but not for its ability to sell lipstick and eye shadow.

The company, called Vesalis, specializes in facial recognition technology. While the equipment is intended for department store makeup counters, security experts have their own ideas about the technology and believe the software could help them spot terrorists or other “people of concern.”

Vesalis originally imagined it would use its video streams to help salespeople connect with shoppers in department stores: the software would compare footage from security cameras (despite their low quality) against a database of existing customers. When the system detected one such customer, it could send a message to a salesperson with an iPad, also providing that person’s photo and purchase history. The salesperson could then greet the shopper personally and suggest things he or she might find useful.

But speedy facial recognition from low-resolution, grainy footage could prove extremely useful in security settings—and the French government was quick to pick up on this fact, investing €2 million ($2.5 million) in the company in 2009.

The system was even put to the test this past October at a soccer game in which it checked 20,000 people every 20 minutes, comparing them to a list of 500 “problem individuals” at an accuracy rate of 98 percent.

From Testing Lipstick to Spotting Terrorists [IEEE Spectrum]

Image: Vesalis

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Sarah Korones

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure