Facebook on Tuesday turned on facial recognition software for many international users, according to a report by IT security firm Sophos. The software is automatically enabled and makes it easier for your friends to tag you in photos that look like you.
Facial recognition has been available to U.S. users since last year, but Facebook is just now releasing it to most other countries.
In a blog post concerning facial recognition, Facebook says users add more than 100 million photo tags every day and that the process can be painstaking.
“While tags are an essential tool for sharing important moments, many of you have said tagging photos can be a chore,” Facebook wrote. “Like that time you had to tag your cousin and her fiancé over and over and over again in 64 different pictures of their engagement party, and then go back and tag the guests.”
But Sophos is unhappy with the new feature and even suggests Facebook is being “creepy.”
“As your Facebook friends upload their albums, Facebook will try to determine if any of the pictures look like you,” Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley writes. “And if they find what they believe to be a match, they may well urge one of your Facebook friends to tag it with your name. The tagging is still done by your friends, not by Facebook, but rather creepily Facebook is now pushing your friends to go ahead and tag you.”
Personally, I feel the privacy concerns surrounding Facebook’s facial recognition software are vastly overblown. Your friends already have permission to tag photos of you, and those photos may not be something you want tagged. Facebook has never offered a way to pre-screen your tags, but that’s not the issue we’re actually talking about here.
The purpose of the new software is to make it easier for friends to tag photos of you in photos you very well may have been tagged in any way. When you are tagged in any photo on Facebook, you are immediately sent a notification that the tag has occurred. If you don’t like the photo or the tag is incorrect, you can easily remove it. I’ve untagged myself from numerous photos that I didn’t want my name linked to, and it’s incredibly simple to do so.
The Sophos post does make one good point: Facebook should introduce any new options in the privacy settings as “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” by default, as most Facebook users likely don’t dig into their privacy settings as often as they should.
“The onus should not be on Facebook users having to “opt-out” of the facial recognition feature, but instead on users having to “opt-in,” Cluley writes. “Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth.”
To turn off the feature, go to the Privacy Settings in your Facebook account, and click “Edit Settings” next to “Suggest photos of me to friends.” There you can disable the facial recognition.
The conversation about what exactly needs to change on Facebook is wide-ranging. We should all strongly encourage users to examine their privacy settings and limit personal information that’s open to the public. Let’s not, however, sound alarm bells every time Facebook introduces a new tool that makes it easier to do things you were already allowed to do in the first place.