Israel-based Face.com is set to release software to the public which can not only recognise faces but search the entire Internet for matches.
So far Face.com has provided services to developers via software APIs and the company said there were already 5,000 developers using the firm’s software although it’s not clear exactly what for.
Such software has been thought to be available to law enforcement agencies before but with the ability to search for individuals from a simple photograph, privacy campaigners have criticised the move to provide such powerful software in the hands of the public.
Face.com describes the new Photo Finder as "A powerful app for finding lost photos of you and your friends on Facebook" and is currently soliciting alpha testers on the company’s web site.
Face.com CEO Gil Hirsch told the Sunday Times: "You can basically search for people in any photo. You could search for family members on Flickr, in newspapers, or in videos on YouTube."
Simon Davies of Privacy International, said: "The regulators have been hugely behind the curve on protecting people’s privacy on the internet. We need to push for much tighter international rules."
The arrival of such technology was likely just a matter of time, regardless of any privacy laws in individual countries. While some proponents have pointed to white-hat applications such as finding missing persons, the possibility of darker applications looks set to highlight the dangers of allowing any photograph to be available publicly on the Internet.