A couple months ago, Facebook changed its privacy settings to allow for facial recognition in photos — and the social-networking site did so by opting its users into the service. European officials began probing the change. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), a co-chairman of the House caucus on privacy, sought an investigation of the move by Facebook, the Boston Herald reported in June. Now, the New York Times reports on Germany’s investigation of Facebook’s photo-tagging software, and the social-networking service has been asked to turn off the feature in that country because it could violate individual privacy:
Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor in Hamburg, who has been aggressive in investigating the online practices of companies like Google and Apple, warned that the feature could violate European privacy laws.
The software, called “suggested automatic tagging,” lets Facebook users assign digital name tags to people in their photographs. Photos that are uploaded later are scanned for physical features and can be tagged and stored.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Mr. Caspar said he had asked Facebook to disable the feature in Germany and respond in two weeks to his concerns. Under German law, the regulator could fine Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., up to 300,000 euros ($429,000). […]
Through a spokesman, Facebook rejected the regulator’s claim, saying the tagging feature, which gives the person in the photograph the final right to accept, reject or remove a tag, conforms with the European privacy law. […]
Mr. Caspar said Tuesday that Facebook had built an archive of more than 75 billion photos, and 450 million people have been tagged worldwide.
The Facebook representative in Berlin said Facebook did not permanently store data on individual faces, but could not say how long Facebook kept the data.