Sep 01, 2013

In a move previously delayed by protests from European legislators, Facebook, Inc. is considering adding most of its’ 1 billion users to a facial recognition database. The technology, supplied by Face.com (an Israeli company), will supposedly “help” users “tag” people more efficiently.

The “Tag suggest” feature, in particular, has worried activists and privacy advocates since 2011. As Reuters notes:

“The changes would come at a time when Facebook and other Internet companies’ privacy practices are under scrutiny, following the revelations of a U.S. government electronic surveillance program.”
There is particular reason to worry in this case, as Facebook and Google both worked directly with the U.S. Government to develop PRISM for the NSA, even though they used logically-fallacious arguments afterwards to try to deny it. Regardless, the government has spent way too much money on facial recognition software for this to be an idle threat.
In an interview that could be pulled right out of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Facebook’s privacy CEO Erin Egan claimed that the new program would actually give users better control over their personal info by making it easier to identify the pictures that they’re in:

“Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service,”

On the other hand, however, Egan pulled a fast one by adding the caveat that the facial recognition technology could be used for other purposes:

“Can I say that we will never use facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not,”

This comes on the heels of Facebook’s new privacy regulations, which reiterate the fact that once you sign up for a Facebook account, “user data is the price of admission to use facebook”, and that they can use it however they want.

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