Facebook claims its new automatic photo tagging feature offers users an “easier” and “more convenient” method to tag friends in multiple photos, but security regulators with the European Union are crying foul. The EU data-protection officials are launching an investigation into a possible security breach by Facebook’s use of facial recognition software to easily identify friends in photos. The regulators are particularly concerned that Facebook has made the instant photo tagging feature enabled by default, requiring users to take extra steps to disable it. Moreover, even when the tagging feature is disabled, the facial recognition software still operates quietly in the background, identifying faces and storing the data.
The EU regulators contend Facebook’s new feature allows the identification of faces in photos without a user’s consent or knowledge.
Gerard Lommel, a member of the EU’s data protection coalition, warns that Facebook’s automatic tagging suggestions could cause serious violations of users’ privacy. For example, imagine for a moment, being captured by a smartphone camera while in the throes of wild inebriated revelry, and the next day you are automatically tagged publicly for all of your co-workers to see.
“Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default,” said Lommel. Automated tagging “can bear a lot of risks for users,” Lommel said, adding his group of regulators intend to “clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.”
Facebook defends the practice by pointing out that prior to the new tagging suggestions, users could manually tag friends without their consent, and still can.
Facebook announced the use of facial recognition software on the company blog yesterday, hailing tags as “an essential tool for sharing important moments.”
“Because photos are such an important part of Facebook, we want to be sure you know exactly how tag suggestions work: When you or a friend upload new photos, we use face recognition software—similar to that found in many photo editing tools—to match your new photos to other photos you’re tagged in. We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos,” writes Facebook engineer Justin Mitchell.
If you don’t want to find yourself publicly tagged in an embarrassing situation or setting, you can disable the feature by following the steps below:
- Go to your privacy settings.
- Click “Customize settings.”
- Scroll down to “Things others share.”
- Find “Suggest photos of me to friends.”
- Click “edit settings.”
- Choose “disable” from the drop down menu
The UK and Ireland is also considering a probe of the potential privacy violations of Facebook’s automatic tagging suggestions that are integrated as default features.