Swedish start-up Polar Rose plans to make its face recognition service publicly available on the Web in the second quarter of 2008 as it tries to become a must-have tool for sorting visual content.
The firm says its technology can pick out faces in the swelling crowd of images on the Internet, thereby making digital photos indexable just like text documents.
If the company is right, this will be a boon for policing online sales of counterfeit merchandise. Firms have been promising this capability — which is the only way to use automation to vet websites for infringing designs — for years, but not delivering the killer application. If this is the one, it won’t be good news for the slightly-reeling — well, at least the taking-a-breath-in-profitability — of eBay, which has talked the talk but to a large extent faked the walk in terms of monitoring that activity on its website.
Why is it bad for eBay if companies can monitor counterfeit sales so readily? After all, it makes it easy to self-police, which is what eBay has mostly insisted brand owners should do, and which it admittedly has accommodated. Yes, but eBay has done this in the full knowledge that only a fraction of counterfeit sales are being picked up.
If a better mouse trap is really on the way, it will do two things: Make it harder for eBay to continue arguing that the online auctioneer itself cannot monitor sales (read “cannot cut into its profit margin”) to prevent counterfeiting, and — guess what? — reduce the volume of counterfeit sales from which it profits.
That is, at least until the counterfeiters think of the next trick.