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CreepShield screens dating websites for sex offenders

Welcome to the brave new world of online romance, thanks to facial recognition technology

Matched with some cute guy on Tinder, but something about him just doesn't feel right? Maybe you're overanalysing his kinda-creepy smile. Maybe it's you. Or maybe he's a sex offender.

CreepShield, a new web browser extension, claims to weed out dating profiles that belong to registered sex offenders using facial recognition technology. 

Basically, the site allows you to scan profile pictures from social networking sites (including Facebook, OKCupid, eHarmony and Grindr) to see if they match the faces of any criminals on its "constantly updated database of 475,000-plus registered sex offenders". Its founder, Kevin Alan Tussy, says the aim of the site is to "make online dating safer".

Once you plug in an image, you'll be presented with a list of potential matches drawn from public registers of sex offenders. The matches are ranked based on the how similar their facial features are to those in the picture. You can also view the offences that these criminals have been convicted of. 

For research purposes, I plugged in my own picture. The Creepshield earch engine came up with profiles with less than a 50% facial recognition similarity to mine, including some that were way out – I'm fairly positive I'm not a black male from Arkansas. 

A colleague gave me permission to use his photo, which turned up some 53% matches. While none of them looked too much like him, there's something a bit eerie about staring at pictures of sex criminals who vaguely resemble people you know. It feels a bit like guilt by association. How do you verify its results, and what exactly do you do if you decide that "Mark, 20, from London" is actually a criminal offender? What stops people from scanning in pictures of their friends, coworkers, teachers and employees? 

Tussy has told the Guardian that sex offenders have "no right to privacy". But the rise of facial recognition technology, which is estimated to grow into a $20 billion market by 2020, raises some very creepy questions about biometric surveillance.

How would you feel if you knew your personal photographs were lined up next to a register of sex offenders, particularly in an age where GCHQ has no qualms about spying on people through their webcams?

Some people are already raising the alarm over facial recognition technology – artists like Jillian Mayer and Adam Harvey have been exploring the usage of anti-surveillance masks and make-up for some time now, arguing that the tech represents an unacceptable intrusion inro our privacy. For now, CreepShield hints at the brave new world we're headed for.