June 11, 2011 1:17 am

Regulator asked to stop Facebook face recognition

Privacy groups have filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission over Facebook’s automated facial recognition technology, a new feature that can identify and tag users in photos uploaded to the social networking site.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) and several other organisations alleged that Facebook’s service was “unfair and deceptive”. They urged the FTC to force Facebook to suspend the programme, “pending a full investigation, the establishment of stronger privacy standards and a requirement that automated identification, based on user photos, require opt-in consent.”

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When Facebook first announced the feature in December, its default setting was for users to be identified by the technology to help members tag, or note the identity, of friends more easily in photos.

“If for any reason you don’t want your name to be suggested, you will be able to disable suggested tags in your Privacy Settings,” Facebook said, offering an opt-out rather than opt-in option.

In an update on Tuesday, Facebook said it had been rolling out Tag Suggestions for several months and that the feature was now available in most countries. It admitted it should have been clearer about when the feature would be available to users.

Epic said in a statement on its website detailing its complaint that “users could not reasonably have known that Facebook would use their photos to build a biometric database in order to implement a facial recognition technology under the control of Facebook”.

If the FTC failed to take action, the group warned Facebook was likely to expand the use of its facial recognition database “for purposes over which Facebook users will be able to exercise no meaningful control”.

“Millions of people have used [Tag Suggestions] to add hundreds of millions of tags,” said a Facebook spokesman on Friday. “This data, and the fact that we’ve had almost no user complaints, suggests people are enjoying the feature and are finding it useful. For those who don’t, we made turning off Tag Suggestions easy.”

Epic and other privacy organisations had earlier complained to the FTC about what they described as Facebook’s constant changes to the privacy settings of users, which they alleged had made it virtually impossible for users to control who gained access to their personal information.

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