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A selfie of the author Zara Stone, overlaid with results from Perfect Corp.’s AI Personality Finder demo. Art by Clark Miller
A selfie of the author Zara Stone, overlaid with results from Perfect Corp.’s AI Personality Finder demo. Art by Clark Miller

The Secret Life of Selfies: How a Beauty Tech Startup Is Using AI to Match Faces With Products

Inside Taiwanese unicorn Perfect Corp.’s billion-dollar bet on biometric beauty tech.

A selfie of the author Zara Stone, overlaid with results from Perfect Corp.’s AI Personality Finder demo. Art by Clark Miller
Sept. 9, 2022 12:00 PM PDT

For years, Hannah Williams’ go-to selfie app has been YouCam Makeup. Before posting a self-portrait to Instagram, the 25-year-old cashier from Morgantown, W. Va., will run the shot through YouCam’s augmented reality filters to whiten her teeth, remove stray pimples and smooth her complexion. In recent months, she’s played around with the app’s cat-eye eyeliner, used its AR hair filter to reimagine herself with red and purple hair, and contoured her face for her Bumble profile.

Williams said she’s gotten a lot of value out of the app: It makes her looked “snatched,” she said. But each of Williams’ selfies offers even more value to Perfect Corp., YouCam’s Taiwan-based parent company. Backed by investors including Snap, Chanel, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Alibaba Group Holding, Perfect Corp. offers consumers and brands sophisticated try-on tools, essentially AR filters that allow customers to virtually test beauty products from their own home. For as little as $399 a month for enterprise clients, Perfect Corp.’s artificial intelligence platform—trained on hundreds of millions of faces like Williams’—can analyze users’ skin quality, match the exact shade of their skin to a corresponding product and overlay cosmetic and fashion accessories. And pretty soon, the program may even label users’ personality traits.

It’s this last feature that presents more dystopian possibilities. Recently, Perfect Corp. launched an AI Personality Finder, which promises to read your facial features for clues about what kind of person you are—and, by extension, what kind of products you might buy. Intrigued (if a bit alarmed), I snapped a selfie and ran it through the online demo. Five seconds later it spit out a profile based purely on the arrangement of my face. According to Personality Finder’s algorithm, the distance between my nose and my mouth, combined with my rounded cheekbones, hooded eyes, and other facial attributes, identified me as an enthusiastic, action-oriented and social person. I scored 95% for extraversion, 21% for neuroticism and 63% for conscientiousness.

This data, when fed into Perfect Corp.’s recommendation engine—licensed by companies as varied as Google, Meta and Aveda—then displayed a variety of generic cosmetics. (The demo program currently doesn’t sync with specific brands.) Apparently, my personality algorithmically meshes with red lipstick, brow pencil, and Goddess and Lilac perfume. These products are placeholder suggestions for future enterprise clients, but it’s easy to imagine them replaced with real goods from existing clients like L’Oréal, Macy’s, Estée Lauder or Nars. And Perfect Corp. clearly has aspirations far beyond helping to sell lip liners and blush.

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