A Harvard freshman made a social networking app called 'The FaceTag.' It's sparked a debate about the ethics of facial recognition.

Yuen Lerchow, a Harvard freshman, is on campus. Yuen Ler Chow
Users can sign up with the FaceTag, scan the faces of other users, and exchange contact details.

The app is available only to Harvard students. This echos Zuckerberg's original creation, TheFacebook.

The FaceTag videos that Chow created with TikTok have nearly a million hits.

Yuen LerChow, a Harvard freshman, created an app that allows students to sign up, scan another user's face, and exchange contact information such as phone numbers and Instagram handles. It's currently only available at Harvard. Chow refers to it as "The FaceTag."

Chow stated that he named the app The FaceTag as FaceTag.com was taken in a comment he left under a TikTok clip. Chow told Insider by phone that he knew exactly what he was doing, referring to Harvard alumnus Mark Zuckerberg, who originally called his creation TheFacebook.

He said, "Obviously, this app isn’t related to Facebook at any time." "But, the fact that I am a Harvard Undergrad and I'm creating kinda like social media apps, the name FaceTag was funny and it being called The FaceTag was also funny."

Chow reports that the FaceTag has only 100 sign-ups. It is available through a web browser at TheFaceTag.com. A series of TikToks that he posted about the subject have almost one million views. Many comments have a similar tone to him: The app is unethical and he should not have done it.

"What is it with Harvard students not understanding ethics?" One TikToker wrote.

Another said, "What an amazing idea from a Harvard student. Surely this won't pose a threat to democracy in a decade." Chow replied, "Can't tell if your joking."

"Dude, don't you think there would be many iterations of this ethical way?" Popular TikToker Serena Shahidi (also known as @glamdemon2004) commented.

A screenshot of the FaceTag homepage from October 21, 2021. The FaceTag/Insider

Although there are many apps that allow you to exchange contact information, they aren’t very popular and don’t use facial recognition like The FaceTag. Chow stated that these commenters don’t understand the app. He created it using an open-source facial recognition API.

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FaceTag scans a person's face to extract points and measurements when they create their first profile. Chow stated that this information is saved but not the image. It won't work if you scan someone's face if they haven't signed-up for The FaceTag. However, if they have signed up for The FaceTag, it will match.

The FaceTag allows users to enter their phone number and Instagram account details. It's either all or nothing. You cannot decide to share different information with other people. To share contact information with others, a person must accept if they have a private profile. Contact information for a non-private profile is shared immediately after an app matches a face.

The FaceTag debate reflects growing concerns about facial recognition. Many TikTok comments raise "what-ifs", which are common concerns for women especially. What happens if someone scans you and obtains your information without your permission? This could be avoided by not signing-up or keeping your profile private. What happens if you are forced to share your information on The FaceTag This is a real possibility in real life. However, you can always remove someone from your FaceTag "friends" list if you wish.

The greatest risk is, perhaps, if someone hacks The FaceTag and harvests users' friends, contact info, and facial measurements.

Chow sent an email explaining that "many people have misconceptions about my app because I didn’t really explain it in video." This was intentional because I knew a shorter and more concise video would be viral than a lengthy explanation of my app. It worked. I got about a million views, but... now I don't know if it was worth the hate lol.

Although the FaceTag might not have caused controversy, QR codes generated by it rather than a face-scanner would have been more popular. Chow said that facial recognition was what he wanted, rather than QR codes. He also wanted to experiment with open-source machine learning tools.

The FaceTag debate is also taking place on TikTok. This app is one of the most intrusive. According to its privacy policy, it uses phone activity trackers (cookies), purchases data from third parties and collects immense behavioral information including keystroke patterns and logs of objects, scenery and "face and body characteristics" that are shown in videos.

Chow is aware of this irony. He said, "It's strange how I see so many people afraid over the fact I'm collecting data, but almost every other social media app collects way, way more," It's not that they are scared, but I am telling them directly that I collect it.

The FaceTag is a small potato compared to Facebook. However, TikTok commenters seem to feel that they are doing a service to society by criticizing Mark Zuckerberg's next mover before he possibly destroys society.

Chow appeared exhausted from the intense feedback while speaking with Insider. He wants The FaceTag's growth. He stated that he would like to "advertise more" soon. He also mentioned interest in investing ("How to invest") in TikTok comments. Someone said "I'm working towards it," Chow replied.

It can also be expanded to non-Harvard students. TikTok user TikTok said, "Make it an app outside Harvard and you'll be a millionaire." He replied, "That's the plan."

Business Insider has the original article.