Facebook Watch: Privacy Group Files FTC Complaint Over Facial Recognition

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has called Facebook “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been created.”  Now the social media giant has installed facial recognition feature on the site.  Here’s how to disable it.

Facebook Watch: Privacy Group Files FTC Complaint Over Facial Recognition

With a new facial recognition feature on Facebook, it’s getting more and more difficult to argue that Facebook is merely trying to connect the world and digitally make it smaller.

We might have to come to terms with the charge leveled by Julian Assange at Facebook, that it is “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been created.”  What does Facebook need the facial recognition feature for anyway?  It doesn’t supply anything that Facebook users actually need.

But what’s even more startling is that Facebook has gathered user photos to create a “biometric” database that allowed them to create and implement the facial recognition technology.  In other words, Facebook uses user photographs—which they own—for purposes they’re not sharing with those users.

Now, Facebook outlines the fact that when a user signs up for a Facebook account, they effectively surrender their rights to photographs and content to Facebook.  The content is shared and is therefore Facebook’s in a sense.  Naturally, they would think it legal and perfectly within their rights as company to utilize user photos to create the facial recognition technology.

However, privacy groups have already taken issue with the facial recognition.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, filed a complaint with the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) to investigate the facial recognition technology, and to disable it until such time as the legality of the software is determined.  The complaint also calls for the software to be opt-in.

In Part 2 of the complaint’s Introduction, the privacy group stated, “Facebook’s ‘Tag Suggestions’ techniques converts the photos uploaded by Facebook users into an image identification system under the sole control of Facebook. This has occurred without the knowledge or consent of Facebook users and without adequate consideration of the risks to Facebook users.”

Thus, every time a photo is tagged, the photo is then used for Facebook’s facial recognition software.  The privacy group states in the complaint that this is an unfair and deceptive trade practice and thus subject to the FTC under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

The group worries, as all should, that this technology will soon allow Facebook to wrest control of user images completely from users.  They also note that Facebook possesses “the largest collection of photographs of individuals of any corporation in the world.” Some 60 billion compared to the combined 20 billion of PhotoBucket, Flickr and Picasa.

The group urges:

“the Commission to investigate Facebook, determine the extent of the harm to consumer privacy and safety, require Facebook to cease collection and use of users’ biometric data without their affirmative opt-in consent, require Facebook to give users meaningful control over their personal information, establish appropriate security safeguards, limit the disclosure of user information to third parties, and seek appropriate injunctive and compensatory relief.”

Since Facebook has not disabled the facial recognition feature or made it opt-in as of the writing of this article, here are directions on how users can disable the feature themselves (through Facebook’s typically labyrinthine privacy controls).

  1. Go to ‘Account’ drop-down menu in the upper right of the Facebook page
  2. Click on ‘Privacy Settings’
  3. Click the ‘Customize Settings’ link
  4. Scroll down (quite a ways) to ‘Things Others Share,’ find ‘Suggest photos of me to friends’ and click ‘Edit Setting’
  5. This setting is by default ‘Enabled,’ so click on it and select ‘Disabled’

Or to see video instructions, head over to the good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.