What Facebook's facial recognition feature means for you


  • TECH
  • Saturday, 28 Apr 2018

This means Facebook could soon be automatically tagging you in photos and videos, rather than a friend tagging you first.

Facebook is planning to reintroduce its facial recognition feature in Europe and Canada. That means Facebook could soon be automatically tagging you in photos and videos, rather than a friend tagging you first.

Europe is only now getting the function after it was turned off in 2012 due to regulatory issues. But in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which saw 87 million Facebook users' data leaked, is this function something users should be concerned about?

Here are six questions you may now be asking yourself.

How does Facebook intend to recognise my face?

A template is created by analysing existing images of you, including your profile photo and tagged images. If images are subsequently uploaded, they are checked for similarities with known images and any identified people are automatically tagged.

What are the benefits?

In addition to making it easier to tag friends in pictures, Facebook says it's adding the new feature for security reasons. According to the company, recognition will make it easier for users to manage which images of themselves are published. You should always get a notification when Facebook recognises an image of you. This is also supposed to make it harder for fraudsters to impersonate other people.

Do I have to opt in?

No, Facebook says that using facial recognition is voluntary. There won't be a facial template for those who don't enable the feature. In practical terms, this means that you won't be automatically identified if you decide to opt out. If you live in Canada or Europe, Facebook will give you the option of deciding whether you want to enable facial recognition or not in the coming days and weeks. You'll also be able to switch off the feature in the settings under "Timeline and Tagging" at a later stage, which means that templates of your face will then be deleted. For underage users the face recognition is to remain switched off.

Am I the only one worried about Facebook collecting data on my face?

Facebook initially introduced the feature in 2011, but scrapped it and deleted the data in 2012 after massive protests in Europe. Consumer protection groups are criticising the move for several reasons: From their perspective, it's unclear what's going to happen with the biometric data beyond the stated purpose. Facebook has recently said that this data isn't shared with other companies, but that could change in the future.

The claim regarding the security aspects of the facial recognition function is questionable in practice. You will only be notified if you are recognised in publicly posted photos. If someone shares pictures within closed user groups, you won't hear about it. It is also unclear how Facebook will deal with cases of mistakenly identified users, for example with people of similar appearance. Face recognition is already in use in many other parts of the world, and the response hasn't been just positive. In mid-April, a US federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Facebook must face a class action lawsuit from users protesting against the use of facial recognition. They say the feature is violating their rights.

When will it be relaunched in Europe?

Facebook wants to brief European users in the coming days and weeks about both new privacy options and the introduction of facial recognition. All users will need to give their consent by May 25. — dpa

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