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    New York Times: Facebook Can ID Faces, but Using Them Grows Tricky

    The New York Times reports on Facebook’s use of facial-recognition technology and the privacy questions that arise from the social-networking site’s use of the biometric data:

    SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook on Friday confronted a new obstacle over what to do with one of its most vital assets — pictures.

    The company promised European regulators that it would forgo using facial recognition software and delete the data used to identify Facebook users by their pictures.

    The decision could have wide repercussions on how facial recognition technology — a particularly sensitive technological advance — is used globally as surveillance cameras are increasingly installed in public spaces. […]

    The agreement comes as Facebook is under pressure from Wall Street to profit from its vast trove of data, including pictures, and also from regulators worldwide over the use of personal information.

    The decision in Europe applies to the “tag suggestion,” a Facebook feature that deploys a sophisticated facial recognition tool to automatically match pictures with names. When a Facebook user uploads a photo of friends, the “tag suggestion” feature can automatically pull up the names of the individuals in the image.

    The facial recognition software was developed by an Israeli company, Face.com, which Facebook acquired for an undisclosed price in June.

    The company quietly and temporarily pulled the plug on “tag suggestion” for all Facebook users several months ago. The company said on Friday it was to “make improvements to the tool’s efficiency” and did not say how soon it would be restored. However, the company promised European regulators on Friday that it would reinstate the feature on the Continent only after getting their approval. […]

    In addition to scrutiny from European regulators, Facebook has also come under fire from consumer protection groups and lawmakers in the United States over its use of facial recognition technology. At a hearing on Capitol Hill last July, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, described Facebook as the “world’s largest privately held database of face prints — without the explicit consent of its users.”

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