Microsoft wants to fix your face.
The Japanese end of the global tech giant has announced a new Telebeauty app in partnership with cosmetic and fragrance company Shiseido, which will apply virtual makeup to your face so you can answer unexpected video conference calls without rushing to the bathroom mirror.
The app is currently being tested on 100 women at Microsoft’s Japan office ahead of being released as a Skype for Business app in 2017.
It relies on facial recognition tech similar to that which powers the avatars and masks that have become commonplace among video conferencing platforms.
But this isn’t meant to be fun and games.
This is supposed to be the professional, digital self you present to colleagues and clients.
And it raises the question–how much can you alter your online appearance before you’re actually lying to people?
Video Calling Empowers Women in the Workforce
Microsoft’s marketing spin on the Telebeauty app is that it falls in line with the Japanese government’s drive to get more people working remotely at least once a week, and to get 73% of women aged 25 to 44 into work over the next three years.
High-minded goals indeed for a digital makeup kit.
They want it to be used by working women who are telecommuting while balancing motherhood and a career.
So you wouldn’t be under any pressure to put your professional face on around house and baby until it’s time to catch that all-important video conference call. Then you just apply the app before joining the meeting and you’re good to go. It can even blur out your background so no one knows you’re at home.
The technology itself will work in much the same way as more light-hearted masks operate in apps and video chatting platforms. The user holds still and lets the VC camera line up key features on their face, the same ones used in facial recognition capture across the security industry.
Then one of four preset makeup styles is fitted to the user’s face and, held in place across the key features, made to move as the real person does.
As you can see in the promotional video below, the mask blends naturally as the user speaks and moves their head–but it comes with a warning. Shiseido have said it won’t work if the user moves their head “wildly”.
Sneeze and your face falls off.
Virtual Makeup for Online Dating
Clearly making the mask appear and move in a naturalistic manner is going to make or break the entire concept.
It’s one thing to don a silly rabbit mask to entertain your friends on a social video call, but if you’re going to face a room full of your professional peers you’ll want total confidence the technology isn’t going to distract–or detract–from your comments.
If Microsoft can cross that bridge, though, the app could be used to present you in your best light across any number of video conference situations.
If you’re an online dater, you could use Telebeauty to switch instantly from anonymous chat to fully engaged one-on-one video date at any time of day or night, without having to keep anyone waiting while you apply real world makeup.
Or, you could use the different virtual makeup styles to change your appearance across a number of video calls throughout your day. Go from a formal online job interview to a social group chat with friends and then a virtual visit to the doctor without changing your wardrobe–just your face.
It could also be used to introduce a makeup uniform for all online customer relations and support staff who interact with the wider world through video conference. Dystopian as that sounds, it’s not hard to imagine that there’s a major chain store or international business out there that would want all its customer service staff to have the same branded and familiar look.
Which returns us to our initial question–how much manipulation of your face does it take to push you into the realm of dishonesty?
Cosmetic Surgery by Video Conference
Applying a little virtual foundation to their face is hardly grounds for accusing somebody of fraud. After all, real world makeup has been accentuating our positives and diminishing our negatives for millennia.
But how long before we are presented with a new Telebeauty app that can “fix” your nose, elongate your cheekbones, change your eye color, and alter your jaw line?
If you’ve ever created a character in a computer game or an avatar in an online forum, you’ll know how much difference moving a chin or brow line just a few millimeters can make to a person’s appearance.
Imagine if a future version of such an app could change your gender altogether, or your ethnicity. You could attend a job interview and begin a remote career with an employer under a totally assumed identity. And it would be a boon for anyone in the catfishing game.
Furthermore, it has the potential to raise the same moral questions about identity and the ideal image that cosmetic surgery and pop culture have presented society over recent decades. Especially among women.
So while Telebeauty may be a novel attempt at the instant makeover, there are some serious ethical questions coming along behind it.
Of course, it’ll all be moot if a high-profile businesswoman (or man) suffers the indignity of their face falling to pieces in front of a live audience when they cough, and the whole idea gets dismissed as amateurish.