Always struggling to put a face to a name? Soon, facial recognition technology (FRT) may be able to do the job for you. Except, advanced recognition systems won't only match faces to names, but to their identity numbers, personal details, purchasing behaviour and banking information, too. All without the face in question being aware of it.

Much attention was focused on the potential of FRTs last year, following a report released by Carnegie Mellon University, which suggested facial recognition, paired with social media profiles, could spell the death of privacy. In future, goes the theory, anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection would be able to accurately identify someone simply by snapping their picture and cross-referencing it with publically available online data.

"When we share tagged photos of ourselves online, it becomes possible for others to link our face to our names in situations where we would normally expect anonymity," said lead researcher Alessandro Acquisti.

In a world where massive volumes of data are being collected through a growing number of interconnected channels, it's getting far easier for criminals to unearth detailed personal information. Facial recognition could significantly increase the risk of identity theft, by allowing people to be traced through something that cannot be password-protected or kept out of sight.

As online privacy company Abine states in a Federal Trade Commission document: “Think of your personal information – name, photos, birth date, address, usernames, e-mail addresses, family members and more – as pieces of a puzzle. The more pieces a cyber criminal has, the closer he is to solving the puzzle. Facial recognition software is a tool that can put all these pieces together.”

These kinds of facial recognition services are already emerging, and while many are still in developing stages, they offer a glimpse of a far less private future...