Facebook has confirmed it is launching a new feature for Messenger that uses facial recognition technology to automatically detect friends' faces in a photo and notifies the user to share the photo with those friends.
The feature, called Photo Magic, goes through users' camera roll and tries to recognize the faces of friends in photos. For instance, if a user takes a quick snap with friends at a party, Photo Magic will instantly check out the most recent photo and determine which Facebook friends are included in that photo before sending a notification to share that photo.
"If you get a new picture, whether you took that picture in your camera app or in a different app, and it goes to your camera roll, then we'll face detect on that picture," Peter Martinazzi, product manager for Facebook Messenger, says. "Then we'll send you the local notification for you to send that photo [to friends] if you want to."
On Android, it will prompt the user within seconds of taking that photo to share it with friends via Messenger. If the user agrees, Photo Magic will immediately open a new conversation with that friend or a group message if they are sending the photo to several friends. On iOS, Photo Magic will go through users' photos "periodically," although Facebook has yet to identify what that means.
The new feature could certainly raise a lot of eyebrows, especially those owned by privacy-minded individuals. Facebook says users will have to opt in to Photo Magic to allow it to go through their private photos, but many people might not realize they have already given Messenger permission to activate the new feature. Chances are most people have already been enrolled into Photo Magic without their explicit consent, since users who have already shared photos on Messenger have already granted the app permission to access their photos.
Fortunately, Facebook provides users the option to opt out of having Photo Magic detect friends' faces on their camera roll and having their faces recognized in other people's photos. Photo Magic uses the same technology that allows the main Facebook app to recognize friends' faces in photos and make tag suggestions, so users who have tag suggestions turned off will also be able to avoid having their faces detected in other users' camera roll.
The goal of Photo Magic, as with other improvements for Messenger Facebook has been experimenting with, is to get more people to use Facebook's standalone messaging app. The decision to spin off Messenger was first met with criticism, but more people are quickly warming up to the idea of Messenger as an app separate from the main Facebook News Feed because of Facebook's additions to the service, including its human-powered virtual assistant M, the ability to hire home service contractors, and most recently, smarter photo sharing.
Currently, Photo Magic is available only for Android users in Australia, with Messenger for iOS slated to receive the feature in the near future. A global rollout is scheduled for the coming months.