Facebook Updates Facial Recognition Settings After CR Investigation

Users who were missing a crucial privacy control will be granted access to the setting starting today, the company says

FB profile iStock-1050021738 iStock-1060638258 iStock-1061143262 iStock-1143435299

Facebook has announced that it is expanding access to a setting called Face Recognition that lets users choose whether the company can identify them in photos and videos using facial recognition technology.

The change follows a Consumer Reports investigation published last May that found the Face Recognition setting was missing on some accounts. That left affected people with no obvious way to turn off the technology, nearly 18 months after Facebook first introduced the setting and rolled it out to most users.

More on Privacy

Facebook started using facial recognition in December 2010 to help users tag friends in photos. At the time, the company introduced a setting called Tag Suggestions, which gave people a way to prevent their names from popping up on the platform when Facebook identified their faces in photos.

CR found that most users who didn’t have access to the Face Recognition setting last spring had the older Tag Suggestions setting instead. In response to questions from CR, Facebook said that both settings could be used to opt out of Face Recognition. However, there was no information on the site to suggest that turning off Tag Suggestions would prevent Facebook from collecting and using facial recognition data.

In July, the Federal Trade Commission cited Consumer Reports’ findings when announcing a multifaceted settlement against Facebook that included a $5 billion fine.

“Starting today, people who newly join Facebook or who previously had the tag suggestions setting will have the face recognition setting and will receive information about how it works,” the company said in a blog post.

“The intent is to phase out the Tag Suggestion setting completely,” Facebook spokesperson Rochelle Nadhiri said in an email to Consumer Reports. “We hope to have this done over the coming weeks.”

Facial recognition works by creating a mathematical “template” that corresponds to your features. Photos and videos are then compared to databases of these templates to look for a match. Facebook’s Help Center promises the company will delete your template if you turn off the Face Recognition setting.

Facebook says it uses facial recognition to help users tag photos and videos with the names of other Facebook users, to aid the visually impaired, and to help the company spot fake accounts.

The social media giant holds a number of patents for other uses of facial recognition, such as linking shoppers in stores to their social media accounts, identifying users’ emotions, and spotting faces and objects in family photos. However, Facebook has repeatedly told Consumer Reports that it doesn’t use the technology for marketing purposes.

“It’s good to see Facebook rolling out the tool they promised almost two years ago, but it’s disappointing that consumers had to wait for a complaint from the FTC before the change arrived,” says Katie McInnis, policy counsel at Consumer Reports. “Facial recognition data is extremely sensitive, and it’s important that all users have access to the same settings so they’re easy to use and understand.”

How to Control Facial Recognition

The upcoming notifications will provide users with details about what the setting does, and include a button that will let users turn the setting on or off, according to Facebook.

This will be an opt-in control. In other words, if users who get the new setting do nothing, Facebook says it won’t use facial recognition to identify them.

If you have access to the Face Recognition setting, you’ll find it on your account settings page. Using a desktop browser, you can navigate there by opening the menu in the top-right corner of any Facebook page and clicking Settings. (The steps are similar on a phone browser or in the Facebook app.) If the control is available to you, you’ll see a link to the Face Recognition setting page about halfway down the list of options on the left-hand side.

The company says that some users getting the setting for the first time may need to update their mobile apps to access it.

To delete the facial recognition template and opt out of any features that use the technology, open the Face Recognition tab. The text says, “Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?” Click Edit and choose No.

Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.