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.
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.
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.