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Facebook's facial-recognition software prompts privacy concerns

Consumer Reports News: June 13, 2011 10:40 AM

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European Union data-protection regulators launched a probe last Wednesday into a Facebook feature that identifies users in photos through facial-recognition software. And Friday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other advocacy groups requested that the FTC order Facebook to suspend the feature, called Tag Yourself.

Facebook provided regulators with information about its use of the technology, and representatives of the company said there was no formal investigation underway, according to Reuters. A group of regulators from the EU's 27 nations will study the new feature for possible rules violations. Authorities from the U.K. and Ireland announced they are looking into the function, too. EPIC and other groups are asking the FTC to require that Facebook obtain users’ opt-in consent before it implements this kind of information-sharing change.

Tag Yourself uses facial-recognition software to identify Facebook users when a photo is uploaded. The feature suggests friends to tag in the photo based on other photos in which those friends have already been identified. The controversy comes from the fact that subscribers can tag other users without their permission.

The feature was enabled as an active default setting in the U.S. last December and has been rolled out in other countries over the past six months, according to a Facebook blog post on the subject. Before the Tag Yourself feature was implemented, Facebook users were able to manually tag photos of their friends without consent.

Facebook users who don't want their photos to be identified by the Tag Yourself feature can disable it in Facebook's privacy settings. Under Customize Settings, disable Suggest photos of me to friends.

9.5 million Facebook users don't use privacy controls
Kerry and McCain introduce online privacy bill in U.S. Senate

Evan MacDonald

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