Israeli start-up ensures privacy in growing world of facial recognition

Forget usernames, passwords, security questions and fingerprints – facial recognition is increasingly becoming our unique identifier.

Although originally used primarily for security purposes – with the FBI said to have access to facial recognition databases containing photographs of approximately half of America’s adults – the market for the technology is growing rapidly and concerns over privacy and security are growing in tandem.

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Facial recognition technology is now increasingly being used by retailers to analyze our shopping behavior, by marketing professionals to assess our age and gender, and by banks to authenticate transactions, in addition to unlocking our phones and tagging friends on social media.

Conscious of the highly sensitive biometric data that can be obtained from photos and videos through unauthorized facial recognition, three graduates of IDF special forces and elite intelligence units have developed an innovative solution to restore privacy to our photos.

Influenced by being unable to share photos on social media during their military service due to the sensitive nature of their work, CEO Gil Perry, COO Sella Blondheim and CTO Eliran Kuta founded Tel Aviv-based company D-ID in January 2017.

D-ID’s initial product, launched this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2018 Conference in San Francisco, digitally manipulates images and videos to render them unreadable by machine tools and artificial intelligence, while the human eye remains unable to detect any difference.

“Our photos contain biometric data. Using them with face recognition, anyone can track you, hack your devices and steal your identity. That’s why our photos must be protected,” said Perry. “We’ve moved too fast with face recognition and it is now a threat to our fundamental human right to privacy.

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“We use advanced image processing and deep learning to process the photo or video in such a way that it will look similar to the human eye – but machines, AI, face recognition classifiers will not be able to recognize the individual,” he added.

The company’s product has come at an opportune moment with new data privacy regulations, including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), threatening major fines and lawsuits for companies that fail to protect personal information, including facial images.

“People are aware and concerned about the security risks of face recognition. Now is the time to protect this data – and we are here to make sure it happens,” said Perry.

Potential customers include cloud storage providers, social networks, financial institutions, health management organizations and governments wishing to protect their sensitive biometric databases.

Their first client, Cloudinary, is an image and video management platform assisting more than 350,000 companies manage more than 22 billion media items.

D-ID is a graduate of the renowned EISP 8200 and Y Combinator accelerators, and was recognized in April as one of the Gartner Research Group’s five “Cool Vendors in Privacy Management.”

The company has so far raised $4 million in venture capital funding, led by Pitango Venture Capital with support from Y Combinator, Maverick Ventures, Foundation Capital and Fenox Venture Capital.

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