Nest is adding fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech

The com­pany’s lat­est home se­cu­rity cam­era will be able to iden­tify the peo­ple it records.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - Associated press

Nest Labs is adding Google’s fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to a high-res­o­lu­tion home se­cu­rity cam­era, of­fer­ing a glimpse of a fu­ture in which in­creas­ingly in­tel­li­gent, In­ter­net-con­nected com­put­ers can see and un­der­stand what’s go­ing on in peo­ple’s homes.

The Nest Cam IQ, un­veiled Wed­nes­day, will be Nest’s first de­vice to draw upon the same hu­man-like skills that Google has been pro­gram­ming into its com­put­ers — for in­stance, to iden­tify peo­ple in im­ages via its widely used photo app. Face­book de­ploys sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy to au­to­mat­i­cally rec­og­nize and rec­om­mend tags of peo­ple in pho­tos posted on its so­cial net­work.

Nest can tap into Google’s ex­per­tise in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence be­cause both com­pa­nies are owned by the same par­ent com­pany, Al­pha­bet Inc.

With the new fea­ture, users can pro­gram the cam­era to rec­og­nize a child, friend or neigh­bor, af­ter which it will send them no­ti­fi­ca­tions about that per­son be­ing in the home.

Nest isn’t say­ing much about other po­ten­tial uses down the road, though one can imag­ine the cam­era rec­og­niz­ing when grand­par­ents are vis­it­ing and no­ti­fy­ing Nest’s In­ter­net-con­nected ther­mo­stat to ad­just the tem­per­a­ture to what they pre­fer.

Or it might be trained to keep a close eye on the kids when they are home af­ter school to mon­i­tor their ac­tiv­i­ties and send alerts when they’re do­ing some­thing be­sides a list of ap­proved ac­tiv­i­ties.

The new cam­era will be­gin ship­ping in late June for al­most $300. Own­ers will also have to pay $10 a month for a plan that in­cludes fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy. The same plan will also in­clude other fea­tures, such as alerts gen­er­ated by par­tic­u­lar sounds — bark­ing dogs, say — that oc­cur out of the cam­era’s visual range.

The cam­era will only iden­tify peo­ple an owner se­lects through Nest’s app for iPhones and An­droid de­vices. It won’t try to rec­og­nize any­one that an owner hasn’t tagged. Even if a Nest Cam IQ video spies a bur­glar in a home, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials will have to iden­tify the sus­pect through their own in­ves­ti­ga­tion and anal­y­sis, ac­cord­ing to Nest.

Fa­cial recog­ni­tion is be­com­ing more com­mon on home se­cu­rity cam­eras. Ne­tatmo, for in­stance, in­tro­duced a se­cu­rity cam­era tout­ing a sim­i­lar fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem in 2015. That cam­era sells for about $200, or $100 less than the Nest Cam IQ.

The way that the Nest and Ne­tatmo cam­eras are be­ing used doesn’t raise se­ri­ous pri­vacy con­cerns be­cause they are only ver­i­fy­ing fa­mil­iar faces, not those of com­plete strangers, said Jen­nifer Lynch, who spe­cial­izes in bio­met­rics as a se­nior staff at­tor­ney for the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, a dig­i­tal ad­vo­cacy group.

But Lynch believes that pri­vacy is­sues are bound to crop up as the res­o­lu­tion and zoom ca­pa­bil­i­ties of home se­cu­rity cam­eras im­prove, and as en­gi­neers de­velop more so­phis­ti­cated ways of iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple even when an im­age is mov­ing or only a part of a face is vis­i­ble. Stor­ing home se­cu­rity videos in re­mote data cen­ters also raises se­cu­rity con­cerns about the im­agery be­ing stolen by hack­ers.

“It def­i­nitely could be­come a slip­pery slope,” Lynch said.

The pri­vacy is­sues al­ready are thorny enough that Nest de­cided against of­fer­ing the fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy in Illi­nois, where state law for­bids the col­lec­tion and re­ten­tion of an in­di­vid­ual’s bio­met­ric in­for­ma­tion with­out prior no­ti­fi­ca­tion and writ­ten per­mis­sion.

Nest’s $10-a-month sub­scrip­tion in­cludes video stor­age for 10 days. Video can be stored up to 30 days with an up­grade to a sub­scrip­tion plan cost­ing $30 a month.

The high-end cam­era sup­ple­ments lower-res­o­lu­tion in­door and out­door cam­eras that Nest will con­tinue to sell for al­most $200. Nei­ther of the lower-end cam­eras is equipped for fa­cial recog­ni­tion.

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