Several European privacy regulators said Wednesday they are investigating Facebook’s facial recognition software, which was enabled without the consent of millions of users Tuesday, according to the Financial Times. Facebook says the purpose of the new feature is to make it easier for users to tag photos.
Facebook, which has more than 600 million active users, has repeatedly been criticized for not doing enough to protect users’ privacy and implementing new features concerning privacy without asking for users’ consent. But this latest incident is drawing more eyes than usual, with authorities from countries including Germany, Ireland, and the UK suggesting they could take action.
“Again Facebook has changed its Privacy Declaration without the users’ consent,” said Peter Schaar, the German commissioner for data protection. “I do not think that Facebook’s action does conform to European and German data protection law.”
Gerard Lommel, a member of the advisory group Data Protection Working Party, said he is concerned about several aspects of facial recognition and photo tagging. “Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default,” Lommel said.
It should be noted that the ability to tag photos of people without their consent has been around for years.
Facebook said it will give European regulators whatever information they request about the feature. “We have noted the comments from some regulators about this product feature and we are providing them with additional information which we are confident will satisfy any concerns they will have,” Facebook spokeswoman Sophy Tobias told Reuters.
I maintain that the implementation of facial recognition software is not a serious affront to privacy and will genuinely help users with photo tagging. Facebook users upload more than 100 million photos a day on the service and the process of tagging every individual photo, especially group photos, is arduous.
That said, I agree with one complaint—I would like to see the ability to pre-approve photo tags added to Facebook. That way, you can pre-screen any tags connected to your profile before they go live instead of removing embarrassing photo tags after the fact.