Concerns about Facebook Facial Recognition Technology

Facebook has recently introduced automatic facial recognition technology to pick out faces of your friends in your photos. When a user uploads a new photo album, a screen will open where you can enter the name of each person below their face. If a face matches one you’ve previously tagged in another album, Facebook may suggest the name for you.

Facebook has received criticism from privacy organisations who claim that their implementation of the new technology raises concerns about user’s privacy.

The fear seems to lie in the idea that one day facial recognition technology will culminate in the ability to search for people using just a picture and the end of privacy as we know it. Imagine a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street or in a crowd and discover everything about you on the Internet.

Although facial recognition software is not new, the main point of contention is that Facebook is offering this new software as an opt out rather than opt in. Turning features on without permission in this way is how Facebook has always operated; new functions are introduced and we can then adjust our settings accordingly.

The option of whether or not to tag a user still lies in the hands of the album creator, who can decide to ignore Facebook’s suggestions. Also, users still have the power to untag themselves.

Human approval is still required; Facebook isn’t doing the tagging for you, it’s merely offering suggestions. Facebook has never offered the option to opt out of tagging, there has never been an option to approve a tag prior to its publication online, so why the privacy outrage?

Only users whom you have already approved as a friend are prompted to tag you. If you decide you have a problem with it you can go to your settings and disable this option. If you don’t like a photo you have been tagged in, hit “untag”.

One argument against the implementation of the new technology is that some users don’t know how to adjust their privacy settings. If this is the case, then an online profile of yourself on an information-sharing based website isn’t the best idea.

Semi-automating the photo tagging process can be useful for friends who enjoy sharing their exploits but may have hundreds of photos of one event, containing the same people.

Some might say that the facial recognition tagging feature actually gives users more privacy by increasing their chances of being tagged, and in that way discovering where their image is appearing and how it’s being used.

As with some smartphones sharing your location through GPS tracking, the onus is on you to use the technology responsibly. If you don’t like the idea of facial recognition software suggesting your image then you can opt out.

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2 thoughts on “Concerns about Facebook Facial Recognition Technology

  1. We definitely agree that although this facial recognition software is limited as of now, it has the potential to be abused in the future. We wrote a similar blog post about this topic and give instructions on how to opt-out of these settings, because it is not obvious at first: http://www.safelist.com/blog/n

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