Privacy advocates continue to sound warnings about Facebook’s collection of biometric data. The concerns have mostly been brought about by the social media company’s use of facial recognition technology on users.
Speaking to Bloomberg, an attorney with privacy rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed to the company’s lack of transparency about the practice as the key issue, noting that Facebook collects facial biometric data “without a person’s knowledge,” whereas it is “very rare for a fingerprint to be collected without your knowledge.”
Perhaps part of the reason that Facebook has deployed its facial recognition technology so aggressively is that it has invested so heavily in it. In 2013 it purchased a company called face.com and proceeded to develop its technology into the DeepFace system that is now able to automatically tag people in photos via Facebook’s new Moments app. It’s the product of some years and money, in other words.
But it could also prove a money-loser, depending on the outcome of a class action lawsuit over its alleged privacy rights violations. That lawsuit has helped to slow Moments’ rollout, with Facebook having decided not to launch the app in Europe and now Canada over similar concerns. At the same time, though, the company continues to refine its facial recognition technology, having recently shown off a system that can identify partially obscured faces.
The controversy over Facebook’s efforts in this area is just a symptom of a broader issue, though, as biometric technology continues to spread and become more commonplace. Privacy rights advocates recently quit en masse from a cross-industry group seeking to establish voluntary standards for businesses interested in using biometric technology, again largely over the alleged unwillingness of private business interests to be proactive in getting customer and user consent. Bloomberg reports that the group is continuing its work regardless, but it’s hard to say how many of the businesses involved will be able to avoid the kinds of legal troubles that Facebook now faces if they continue without the consultation of privacy experts and advocates.
July 29, 2015 – by Alex Perala