/ Technology

Does Facebook’s facial recognition violate your privacy?

A respected German data protection expert last week accused Facebook of breaching EU privacy laws with its facial recognition software. Should Facebook be able to recognise your face without explicit consent?

Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data protection commissioner, thinks Facebook’s facial recognition software, which suggests whether your newly uploaded photos include your friends for tagging, violates EU privacy laws.

Following these alleged violations, Casper has demanded Facebook delete its collection of individual biometric facial recognition data, which he says it collected and stored without user consent.

If Facebook doesn’t do this, he has threatened the site with legal action and warned it to expect a €300,000 (£262,000) fine.

Facebook’s defence

What has Facebook said back to this? A spokesperson responded in a statement:

‘[We] firmly reject any claim that we are not meeting our obligations under European Union data protection law. We have also found that people like the convenience of our photo tag suggest feature.’

This position doesn’t surprise me. Facebook’s forever rolling out new features which it automatically signs users up to, whether they want it or not. It then places the onus on them to opt-out by adjusting their privacy settings.

However, as Casper argues, you haven’t been asked whether you want your facial biometric data scanned and stored before Facebook goes ahead and does so.

Always opting-out

Plus, the opt-out option isn’t necessarily user-friendly – here’s how you do it:

  • Go to your Facebook account’s privacy preferences
  • Click on ‘Customise settings’
  • Scroll all the way down to ‘Things others share’ and you should see an option titled ‘Suggest photos of me to friends. When photos look like me, suggest my name’
  • Click on ‘Edit settings’
  • If Facebook has enabled auto-suggestion of photo tags you will find the option says ‘Enabled’
  • Change it to ‘Disabled’ if you don’t want Facebook to recognise you
  • Press ‘OK’

With new features being introduced what seems like almost every day, I can’t help but think that Facebook is relying on ignorance to collect as much personal sensitive data as it can.

Roll out new features by all means, but why not make them opt-in instead? Users must be sick and tired of constantly tweaking their privacy settings just to maintain a modicum of privacy. I bet no one expected this when they signed up to Facebook in the first place.


Hence why everyone should delete their facebook accounts and their LinkedIn accounts.

One can always rely on the Germans to pick the holes in a law that so many are scared to do. Look at the smoking ban, most countries just say “ok, we’ll invoke a blanket ban because the EU told us to” or if you are the Netherlands “pay us to smoke in here and we put the money towards the fine if it happens”

Not in Germany, they challenged the law and the ultimate outcome was that Germans have the choice of smoking bars and non-smoking bars as they decreed that part of peoples enjoyment when they drink, is to have a cigarette.

I expect Germany to be the trailblazers in this privacy battle, we absolutely must follow what they do and how they do it. But why can the Germans legally interpret EU laws to suit themselves? I don’t understand why we appear to show complete subservience to almost anyone that attempts to remove our freedoms and invades our privacy.

Well I deleted mine before actually using it. I read so many complaints that I don’t want to have anything to do with Facebook.

If Which? has a Facebook site then why not discuss it there. Many of us are not interested.

Hi wavechange – we do have a facebook page, and we might be posting this convo up there as well to get some of our FB people’s opinions. But it’s nice to get a spectrum of opinions, and Which? Conversation is here to showcase a range of topics, so we do sometimes talk about social networks as well =)

If anyone does want to join us on facebook (I assume you won’t want to, wavechange!) you can like us here: http://www.facebook.com/whichaction

Sorry Nikki (and Arlene). I’m sure you are right and I’m being self-centred. I just can’t understand why people use Facebook despite all the bad publicitiy, but the same applies with Microsoft. 🙂

Another monstrous example of Facebook’s attempt to play at being omnipotent; they must have some creepy people beetling away on pernicious software. Reminds me of a rotting onion as each layer of skin falls away to reveal something even worse on the inside. Avoid like the plague.

spotting something bad over there “We have also found that people like the convenience of our photo tag suggest feature.” . looks like Facebook thinks he is a Gov . how the heck they talk on behalf of people this is dictatorship . this site should be shutdown

Safin says:
4 September 2011


Behind the Suggest photos of me to friends .. is write (This is not yet available to you.) and its not active that button which you say..! 🙁

Chris K. says:
8 December 2011

Can you please update the “step by step” section as it seems to be outdated.
I can’t find any of your setting in my facebook account.

Hi Chris
Apologies that this information is now out of date, unfortunately Facebook has a habit of updating its privacy sections very often – as we’ve spoken about here! Thanks for letting us know, we’ll look into whether we can update the information.