Privacy Regulators See Red Over Facebook Facial Recognition

facebook-facial-recognitionThe long worked on facial recognition technology recently released by Facebook is coming under attack from European Union regulators questioning its intrusion in to users' privacy.

Facebook gave information to the EU shortly after the investigation started, as Reuters reported. Though TechCrunch suggested the probe was for other privacy issues the EU had with the website.

And it may not just be the EU coming at Facebook. As TechCrunch noted "it looks like Facebook may be up against a challenge in the United States as well. We've obtained a draft copy of a complaint to the FTC penned by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and we hear that they're trying to drum up support from other privacy organizations before they file the document."

The added tagging feature suggest other photos of the people you have tagged. Newly uploaded photos are scanned by the Facebook comparing the faces in the photos against previously tagged ones to see if it can match any. If a match is found, Facebook alerts the uploader and suggests "tagging" the person in the photo.

The biggest complaint is that the tagging is the default. If you need to turn it off you need to go through this process.

"While Facebook may prompt people to tag you when they upload images, they will only prompt a user who you've already approved as your friend, and the person tagging the image has the option to not tag the picture at all. Further, users who are tagged will receive a notification and can then untag themselves if they wish. The more creepy thing here may be that Facebook has such a comprehensive database of who we all are and what we look like," SEW's Rob Young noted.

This sentiment was echoed in TechCrunch's report. "The reality is that facial recognition is already here, and it's not going away so the debate at this point should be a matter of figuring out how the technology should be used rather than if it can be created in the first place (Tim O'Reilly does a good job discussing this in this post). And, as features go, suggested photo tagging just doesn't bother me. I'm far more concerned about the companies I've never heard whose whole businesses will revolve around building and selling these biometric profiles, without users ever knowing about it."

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has filed a complaint about the feature with the FTC, stating on their site that "the service was unfair and deceptive and urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program, pending a full investigation, the establishment of stronger privacy standards, and a requirement that automated identification, based on user photos, require opt-in consent."

How this all works out will be watched carefully by the industry.

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.