Dog catcher: Biometrics becomes the rescuer of lost pets

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Biometric technologies — which can read a person’s unique physical and behavioral traits — have been helping consumers maintain personal security. Many smartphone users, for instance, now have the option of activating their phones by using fingerprint or iris recognition software, reducing the risk of identity fraud and eliminating the need for password memorization.

At the same time, the advent of biometrics has encountered opposition from privacy advocates, who consider the technology intrusive. Others condemn its potential to incite aggressive burglary, citing a case in which teenagers kidnapped a Malaysian man whose Mercedes S-class could be driven only after scanning the fingerprint of its owner.

But a new use of biometrics would muzzle even the most biting of critics: An online application is relying on facial recognition technology to help owners find their lost dogs.

The app, fittingly known as Finding Rover, allows animal shelters to submit photos of their canines to an online database. Each image is then run through a biometric software program that measures eight facial markers distinctive to each dog, including the size of the eyes and positioning of the snout.

In turn, distraught owners need only submit snapshots of their missing companions, whose facial markers are measured against those of dogs rescued by shelters registered with Finding Rover. Once a match has been struck, a happy reunion is but an email away.

As of now, the app is available only to residents of San Diego County. In response to sweeping praise for its services, however, Finding Rover is seeking to expand beyond state and national borders.

Biometrics, like any technology, can be used with malicious intent. But they can also be used to advance causes as noble and universal as uniting man with his best friend.

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