EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

Summary: The European Union is unhappy with the fact that Facebook turned on Tag Suggestions, a facial recognition feature, by default without notifying users first.


European Union data-protection regulators are planning to probe Facebook over its latest facial recognition feature that it began rolling out worldwide yesterday. Facebook rolled out Tag Suggestions across the US late last year, but for countries outside of the US, the company switched it on by default without telling its users first.

"Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people's prior consent and it can't be activated by default," Gerard Lommel, a Luxembourg member of the so-called Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, told BusinessWeek. Such automatic tagging "can bear a lot of risks for users" and the group of European data protection officials will "clarify to Facebook that this can't happen like this."

When you upload new photos, Facebook uses software similar to that found in many photo editing tools to match your new photos to other photos you’re tagged in. Similar photos are grouped together and, whenever possible, Facebook suggests the name(s) your friend(s) in the photos. In other words, the square that magically finds faces in a photo now suggests names of your Facebook friends to streamline the tagging process, especially with the same friends in multiple uploaded photos.

When I asked Facebook about the feature yesterday, I was given the following statement: "We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that’s currently done more than 100 million times a day. Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested. If for any reason someone doesn’t want their name to be suggested, they can disable the feature in their Privacy Settings. When we announced this feature last December, we explained that we would test it, listen to feedback and iterate before rolling it out more broadly. We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them. Tag Suggestions are now available in most countries and we’ll post further updates to our blog over time."

For more information about Tag Suggestions and how turn them off, check out yesterday's article: Facebook starts rolling out facial recognition feature worldwide.

Topics: Data Centers, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • about time

    its about time Facebook was told they are not immune to law.
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


      It's amazing how much trouble FB would save themselves if these new features were set to "off" by default instead of "on".
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


        It is more amazing how few people would use these features if they were not defaulted to on. For example, in many European countries, being an organ donor is automatic unless you opt out. These countries tend to have greater than 90% enrollment. In the US, being an organ donor is opt in, we have something like 15%. (Apologies for being too lazy to look up the exact numbers.)

        Opt in seldom draws a significant crowd.
        x I'm tc
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

        @jdakula: But in many cases it's the right thing to do. If someone were given the choice presented up front and would say no, then not presenting that choice directly (facebook didn't exactly have a huge press conference about this feature) then it's deceptive. I hadn't heard about the feature until I read about how creepy it is in the news... Facebook didn't make an effort to inform me that it existed as a user.
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


        2 REASONS...
    • Life's not black and white

      The feature should be on by default. The first time it's used, there should be a box or popup or notification saying, "this is a new feature!, do you like it?: yes or no. If you need to turn it on/off later go to Privacy settings -> face recognition and toggle the button."
      End of argument. They get their 90% sign up rates or nearly that and you get the choice. Soooo simple.
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

        @acrazysailor@... They can have a banner pop up advising the availability of the feature and an opt in option by default. No privacy invasion no hassle unless you want in.<br>Simpler, smarter by half and morally and legally acceptable.
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


      Down with Facebook! They aren't the only ones that think they're immune. Corporations in general have too much power and its time they all get a reality check!
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


      This is why people I know have stopped using FB...

      I do the best to protect my privacy and those of my children on the internet....
  • Facebook = Creepybook

    Who needs NSA/CIA working on domestic surveillance when you have everyone using Facebook! Fb is capturing all your communications, social connections, chat history and facial biometrics BY DEFAULT. But how cares, FB is FREE! Woohoo!
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

      @vanarie Everyone? The millions of users FB reports is a prodyct of imagination. Some probably sign up and then never go back again. Nobody knows how many real active users they have.
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

      @vanarie Well, it's already happening in some countries, including mine, where FB comments are now being deemed a threat to national security and people here have been charged with sedition....but hey, like you said, FB is free innit?
      Danny Gnaniah
  • Unspoken Consent?

    I remember this feature magically appearing, and didn't give it a second thought. I guess I have come to expect Facebook's seamless integration of new features, while neglecting the importance of my consent!!
  • Where are the USA regulators? Asleep at the switch, as always.

    The real issue here is that people who are NOT facebook members but who have friends who are members may end up tagged and in pictures online... eliminating their privacy without their approval (as they can't opt-out of a function on a site they don't even use).

    Now pedophiles can find pictures of my daughters on my sister-in-law's page, complete with names. From that they can derive enough information to locate, approach, and perhaps kidnap one of them. Things like this have already happened.

    Even if you practice safe computing habits, does EVERYONE you know and interact with? If not, facebook is a danger to you too... even if you're not a member.

    Sorry for the rant, but I appear to be on a privacy kick today.

    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

      @JonathonDoe you are not a member you cannot be tagged. That said...FB can take a long walk off a short pier....don't trust them at all.
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

        You can't be tagged by users, true. But I have no doubt that Facebook is still cataloging who it thinks it sees in every picture uploaded.

        Not so sure I'd be worried about the pedophile though.
        x I'm tc
      • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

        @ColdFusion_z What stops it? I am not a FB user; some in my family are. Family member X posts a photo that includes me and names everyone it. Good ol' X posts another photo that I'm also in. What stops FB from tagging it via the recognition process?
    • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature


      I 1,0000% agree with you..My twins are 2yrs old..I WILL NEVER place photos of them on FB or any other site.

      Friends have asked for me to do so, I have politely explained my privacy/safety issues and said I will gladly send them to your personal e-mail address just not on FB regardless of how safe they claim their settings are.
  • There is an alternative

    Don't you think it's funny our government can't even obtain this kind of information about it's citizens without a court order, but facebook and other social networking site have been given the latitude? Why not, for the government it'll be like going to the library and avoid dealing with the ACLU, Lawsuits, etc., Wait is this the facebook that has like buttons all over the web and can track your whereabouts? Not the same facebook that bowed to china, and doesn't allow it's chinese users to talk about politics and religion is it? the new alternative to facebook. No Real Names, No Email!
  • RE: EU to probe Facebook over facial recognition feature

    Just a thought. Facebook is not a mandatory software that people have to use by law. Everyone seems to think these things are against them and not for the benefit of Facebook. If people don't like it turn it off or hey don't even sign up for the service. EU is always suing some American Company. If I was Microsoft I would say the license agreement on MS is null and you can't use any of our software anywhere in Europe. Go back to DOS. Same with Google, Apple, Linux, etc. These lawsuits and multi million$ fines have to stop. Make it something real and worthwhile and software companies get a backbone and hit the Socialist back.