FTC examines proposed Facebook facial recognition technology changes

The FTC is placing Facebook's facial recognition technology under scrutiny in relation to federal privacy guidelines.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Credit: CNET UK

Proposed changes to Facebook's facial recognition technology features have not only drawn the wrath of privacy advocates, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also taking a keen interest.

According to Reuters, an FTC spokesman has confirmed that the agency will examine whether proposed changes to the social networking site's privacy policy will violate a 2011 agreement with federal regulators.

FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan told the news agency that regulators would analyze the changes in depth to make sure the company complies with its 2011 agreement, in which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to obtain permission from users before sharing their sensitive, personal data with new audiences.

The Tag Suggest feature, which would use facial recognition technology to match faces in photos uploaded to Facebook with public profile pictures, is part of a broader set of changes announced by the tech giant on August 29.

Privacy advocates have levelled criticism against the "Tag Suggest" feature and changes to policy; six privacy groups sent a letter to the FCC on 4 Sept, and the site endured a hailstorm of criticism from online users. As a result, Facebook has temporarily delayed adoption of the new policies, which were sent to users just before the Labor day weekend.

Under Facebook's refined Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, users must give permission to Facebook to use their name, profile picture and content in connection with commercial, sponsored and related content.

The proposed changes state:

"You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you. If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.

We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent."

FCC Spokesman Peter Kaplan said:

"Facebook never sought out a discussion with us beforehand about these proposed changes. We're monitoring compliance with the order. Part of that involves interacting with Facebook."

The agency says it has no reason to believe the 2011 agreement has been violated, and Facebook said in a statement that it fully complies with the FCC -- and the new policies do not grant the company further control of personal data. The language of the new terms and conditions, Facebook argues, was required by a federal court as part of a class-action suit brought by users angry at their names and photos being used to endorse products in advertisements to their Facebook connections.

Speaking at this year's TechCrunch Disrupt, Zuckerberg said that Facebook's overall aim is to function as "a roadmap to understand everything in the world, semantically."

While privacy is a hot topic in relation to social media sites, when asked about the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, the Facebook CEO said:

"I think it's my job and [Facebook's] job to protect everyone that uses Facebook. It's our government's job to protect all of us. They did a bad job of balancing those things here. I think the government blew it."

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