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Web application scans Facebook for unflattering photos

A German company will soon release a comprehensive Web-based application for monitoring Facebook content

So you're at the company Christmas party, and you've drank too much. The next day, an unflattering photo is on Facebook, but you don't know it since you haven't been tagged.

It's a constant dilemma facing those using social networking sites. But a German company is expecting to release early next year a Web-based application that can, among many other functions, find photos of you even if you're not tagged.

Secure.me comes from myON-ID Media, which was founded by Mario Grobholz and Christian Sigl in 2006 in Munich with a focus on online reputation management.

It is a redesigned application based on a product the company has for German-speaking markets, called "Ruflotse." It monitors the public Internet for mentions of a person, as well as monitoring Facebook.

Sigl said they're revamping and rebranding Ruflotse, which has about 50,000 paying customers, for English-speaking markets and other languages, with a focus initially just on Facebook.

Secure.me is a comprehensive monitoring service that allows a person to scan their profile, look for embarrassing Wall posts and note information that poses a privacy risk, Sigl said.

"It's really hard to keep track of what information you are actually publishing and what information is out there with your name," Sigl said.

Secure.me takes a thorough look at user activities, status updates, comments, "Likes" and posts with location information. The application can do that since users give Secure.me permission to look at all Facebook data irrespective of privacy settings employed.

If it finds that someone has posted where they currrently live, for example, Secure.me will flag that as a possible privacy threat.

It can also do what it calls "network analysis," which is a broad look at a person's friend network and ranks its mood on a sliding scale veering from "negative" to "neutral" to "positive" with a green bar.

A language analysis feature analyzes posts, highlighting ones that may be "questionable." That can range from the use of profanity in a comment, to a sexual reference or a potentially malicious link in a Wall post.

During a demonstration of the software, Secure.me flagged more than once "xxx" at the end of a Wall post, in an apparent assumption of impropriety, although that is frequently an affectionate sign-off. Sigl said Secure.me is in a closed beta now, and some bugs need to be worked out.

"It's not always accurate, but we've basically decided its better to show a little bit more," he said.

The company is using facial recognition technology to scan photos in a user's friend circle to see if the user is present. Facebook will notify users by e-mail if they are tagged in photos. But if they are not tagged, users have to carefully scan their friends' profiles to see if they are pictured in photos.

If Secure.me finds a photo that is untagged, it is marked with a red flag. If it is tagged to identify the user, it gets a blue one.

At this point, it is not possible to use Secure.me to delete questionable posts. A user would still need to go into Facebook and delete it manually, a process that has to be performed one post at a time. But Sigl said that is a planned future feature.

Secure.me can also be used by parents to monitor their child's Facebook account. The application would be visible only to the child within their Facebook account. To begin monitoring, the child would receive an e-mail from Secure.me to allow monitoring.

The child, of course, could agree to monitoring but later remove Secure.me, a signal to the parent that "they have to talk with their kid," Sigl said.

It's also possible a child could set up another Facebook account to avoid monitoring. But Sigl said parents would probably catch on if there's little activity on the dummy account.

There are both free and paid versions of Secure.me. The free version allows for monitoring of one account a week back, while the paid one allows data to be scanned as far as three months back for up to three accounts. The paid version costs US$7 or €5 per month, Sigl said.

Some features are only in the premium product, such as facial recognition, Sigl said. Also, profiles must be manually scanned with the free version, while the paid version allows for automatic scanning.

The final version of Secure.me should be released in the beginning of next year. The supported languages are German, English, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, Turkish, Russian, Polish and Portuguese.

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