In 2017, we developed a world-first campaign to harness the power of Facebook’s then new facial recognition and auto tagging technology in the search for missing people. Invisible Friends featured a selection of Facebook profiles of missing loved ones whose families requested to be involved, sending through images and details to create the profiles. Through unprecedented media coverage both nationally and internationally, we asked Facebook users around the world to ‘Friend’ the loved ones involved.

The initiative searched the backgrounds of each photo and video posted by the friends of each profile, in the hopes of identifying and locating these missing people. With then around 500 million photos and videos posted to Facebook every day, if even one of the faces matched, the algorithm would have notified Missed of the missing loved one being identified in the image.

Invisible Friends was considered ‘an ingenious way to put artificial intelligence to work for a good cause’, carrying out a task that humans simply aren’t capable of.
Facebook’s facial recognition technology operates at an accuracy of 98% which is 13% more accurate than the facial recognition technology employed by the FBI. And while there were some obvious privacy concerns for people who believed some people didn’t want to be found, MPAN only created profiles where an active police report existed, and other strict criteria were met.
Though there weren’t any matches made, each of the families involved attracted their own localised media attention, and – through both social and traditional media – the cause of Missing Persons was able to reach the broadest audience imaginable.