Last week, the internet was taken by storm by an app called Facezam. What turned out to be a hoax by a UK-based marketing agency had Internet users sweating for a few days.
A combination of Facebook and music-recognition software Shazam, the app promised to identify people’s faces and pull up their social accounts. The basic premise was that you could snap an image of anyone in public and within 10 seconds get their Facebook profile with a 70 percent accuracy. Tagline was even creepier: "Privacy is over. Facezam is here."
The flame was further fanned by CEO’s claims that “privacy will no longer exist in public society” and that privacy-concerned citizens can’t protect themselves from the app. Let’s not even go down the path of all the possible questionable uses the app would have, if it were real.
Zacozo, the company behind the publicity stunt, believed that the story “would be picked up quickly.” Indeed, they were so right, major publications around the world ran the news and Facebook’s legal team contacted the “creators” within hours of their instant fame. The "launch” was set for March 21st on the App Store, but marketers had to come clean about the hoax much quicker as “things had got serious quickly.”
Facebook was not pleased with the news as their API terms clearly prohibit app developers from "scraping" users' data through automation without the company's explicit permission. In 2014, the social giant blocked a similar Google Glass recognition app called NameTag.
“People trust us to protect their privacy and keep their information safe. This activity violates our terms and we’ve reached out to the developer to ensure they bring their app into compliance,” a company’s spokesperson stated.
Related: 3 Biometrics Startups Heating Up the Password Security Race
However, such technology exists and is widely used by digital giants like Google, Facebook and Snapchat. In fact, it “earned” them a few lawsuits, which made the hoax that much more believable.
Purposefully or not, the creators of campaign forced us to think about societal concerns that are very serious. Are we sharing so much of our lives online already that we're enabling invasion of privacy? Do we, as society, depend on Facebook’s business decisions and innovations to define the new norms?
If Facebook wanted to create such face-recognition capability for its users, it could very feasibly do it. In fact, as of right now, among the many permissions they do ask you to provide, the company doesn’t ask for permission to phototag. Plus, it acquired FacioMetrics, a facial expression recognition software startup, last year. The speculation has it that Facebook’s purchase may be a part of a strategy to develop gesture-based controls. Conspiracy theories aside, the capacity to create face-recognition apps is there.
Related: 10 Amazing Uses of Facial Recognition Technology
As to the viral marketing agency, they did a great job with this campaign. Zacozo’s creative minds did really prove that they can make stories go viral. This particular one was so scandalous, immediate and truly disturbing, even Facebook bought into its realness.
Interestingly, this is Zacozo’s first public campaign. What will they come up with in the nearest future? Buckle up, people, we are going on a ride.