Facebook is once again on the hot seat over privacy, and this time it’s all over something called facial recognition that the company announced last year but just very quietly introduced in the past few days. In fact, if you’re a regular Facebook user you probably won’t see anything about the new change on your Facebook page, any mention that it even exists, and worst of all, no mention that you’re now opted in to this troubling new feature without your permission.
Here’s how it works. As your friends add more photos to their albums, Facebook’s new technology will try to determine if any of the faces in the photos look anything like you. If they do, Facebook will urge your friends to tag the photo with your name. It’s not your decision, but the decision of the person uploading the photo.
You don’t get to approve any of the tags before they happen, but instead have to go to the trouble of un-tagging any photos you don’t want tagged. This is something that is not explained at all by Facebook.
Facebook probably thought that if they introduced this very controversial feature very quietly, they would avoid any serious media scrutiny and consumer complaints. But as Facebook should have learned by now, nothing goes unnoticed any more.
And now security experts and legislators around the world are once again criticizing Facebook’s sneaky insult to user privacy. According to Graham Cluley of security firm Sophos “Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth.”
PC World was even stronger in its criticism “Facebook is officially getting super-creepy,” adding that “the new facial recognition technology, which was announced in December but only introduced to a small test group, is basically Facebook’s way of creating a huge, photo-searchable database of its users. And yes, it’s terrifying.”
And according to PC World, Facebook’s members upload over 200 million photos every single day, adding to the estimated 90 billion photos that already reside on Facebook. Many of the privacy concerns revolve around how easy it could be for inappropriate photos of you to end up being viewed and judged by complete strangers around the world, without your knowledge or permission – photos that may not actually be of you.
“At the end of the day, Facebook’s facial recognition technology is downright creepy,” said Sarah Jacobsson Purewal of PCWorld. But what’s even creepier is how hard Facebook makes it for the average user to disable facial recognition. It even took me quite a while to figure it out, and it’s very obvious that Facebook is doing everything possible to make sure as many users as possible find it hard to opt out and just give up.
Here’s how to opt out of facial recognition – bear in mind, you’re wasting your time looking for any link or reference to facial recognition on Facebook because they absolutely refuse to even use the term.
• Click on the Account link at the top right of your Facebook page and go to Privacy Settings (I really hope this is a place you’re very familiar with!)
• Towards the bottom of the page you’ll see a lonely little link “Customize Settings.” Click on that link and scroll down to “Suggest photos of me to friends.”
• Next to “Suggest photos of me to friends,” click on “Edit Settings>”
• You’ll probably see that this feature has been “Enabled” by default, meaning that if you do nothing, facial recognition will always be turned on.
• Change Enabled to Disabled, and you’re done. At least until the next time Facebook tries another sneaky privacy end-run.
Editors Note: Since writing this article, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the FTC to bar Facebook from using the facial recognition technology.
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