Facebook Checks Out Some Familiar Faces

Facebook has introduced a facial recognition tool to make image suggestion easier. But it’s prompted warnings over privacy settings and further calls to change the balance towards user confidentiality.

The new tool builds on a previous change allowing users to select multiple images with the same person in and tag them all at once, rather than have people type in the details for every image. (As the Facebook blog notes, that’s a particularly tiresome task with albums (such as wedding albums) where the same faces appear over and over again.)

The new tool will automatically scan an uploaded image and compare the faces in it to other photos in the albums of the users and their friends. If it spots a “match” it will ask the user to confirm that the identification is correct and let them automatically tag it with a single click. If the user uploads a batch of pictures, the tool will allow an automatic tag of all images of the same person.

Facebook notes that if users want to avoid their name being suggested for this auto-tagging, they can click on “Customize Settings” in their privacy settings section, then untick “Suggest photos of me to friends.”

That’s led to two types of complaint. The first is based on the idea that this technology is simply a reminder of how creepy Facebook’s access to user data can be. After all, even in cases where users don’t tag images, it’s presumably now possible for Facebook to scan all images for matches anyway and thus know which social gatherings you’ve been to. Whether it could or would do anything inappropriate with this information is another question.

The second source of complaint is that yet again Facebook’s default position is to make user details as open as possible and leave people to actively request/demand greater privacy.

The most common theme in the responses on Facebook’s blog is that the current set-up — the person that uploads the picture can tag somebody else, and it’s then up to them to click to remove the tag — is the wrong way round. The demand appears to be that instead the person tagged in an image should be asked to confirm they are happy for the tag to be on a picture before the it goes live.

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