Facebook Gives More Users an ‘Off’ Switch for Facial Recognition

Facebook Gives More Users an 'Off' Switch for Facial Recognition

The ongoing controversy about the public use of facial recognition technology may have given Facebook a little chill in recent months, with the company recently announcing changes in how it uses facial recognition technology on its social media platform.

Essentially, the changes are about turning Facebook’s use of facial recognition into an ‘opt-in’, rather than default, feature. The company has used facial recognition for its ‘tag suggestions’ feature – designed to automatically detect Facebook users in pictures uploaded to the platform – for years; but in December of 2017 Facebook introduced a new setting for select users called ‘face recognition’, which basically gave them an on-or-off switch for whether they wanted Facebook to be able to use facial recognition on their own faces.

This face recognition feature has now been expanded to all users, with notifications being sent to those who still had the tag suggestions feature, and to new users. These users will need to turn face recognition on if they want it; otherwise they are opted out by default.

The move may be the result of a perception of growing unease about facial recognition technology among the public as the technology’s use by law enforcement authorities has become a more controversial issue. It may also be the product of Facebook’s own legal troubles over its use of facial recognition technology, with its tag suggestions feature having dragged the company into a class action lawsuit over its infringement of Illinois’ Biometric Privacy Information Act.

In any case, the effort has not been greeted with universal acclaim; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, has criticized Facebook for being vague about how it will inform current Facebook users for whom the face recognition feature is already available about this functionality, if at all. But it’s undeniably a step forward in terms of user privacy, with Facebook noting in its announcement that it has been working with “privacy experts, academics, regulators and people on Facebook” about how it should use facial recognition technology, and noting that it doesn’t share this biometric data with third parties.

Sources: Facebook, Electronic Frontier Foundation

September 16, 2019 – by Alex Perala