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article imageFacebook, literally — Face recognition tags raise privacy fears

By Paul Wallis     Jun 8, 2011 in Internet
Facebook’s use of facial recognition technology on photos pasted on the site is alarming a lot of privacy experts. The “Tag Suggestions” feature is the culprit, and some would say the smoking gun.
Facebook has really opened a lot of cans of worms with this situation. Facial recognition technology isn’t new, but it has become a lot more advanced and much more efficient. Biometrics, in this case the literal measurement of facial features, is now an extremely accurate scientific tool, commonly associated with security technology.
The privacy fears are predictable enough, even if there doesn’t yet seem to have been much indication of any negative effects. The fact is that this technology does have the capacity to be used against people, and can find them in “dubious” contexts on the site.
Some problems are likely to be more practical, and potentially dangerous. The possible use of face recognition technology can work against people in multiple ways:
Employers tracking staff
ID thieves
Online bullies and trolls
Average internet psychopaths
Debt collectors
Divorce lawyers
Given the almost obsessive, maniacal way in which US employers have used Facebook as a weapon against their staff, anything could be considered possible. The other parties are “just doing their jobs”, but that’s not likely to be too pleasant for some people, either.
Is it an invasion of privacy?
Theoretically, no. This is one of the “there’s no law against it” scenarios, and privacy advocates would have to prove a legitimate, substantiated case to get effective action taken. There’s no indication of any intent to do anyone an injury on Facebook’s part, either. The Tag Suggestions function is exactly what it claims to be. It just happens to use this technology.
Is there any real potential risk?
There could be. People have got into trouble online without the added assistance of face recognition software before now, and it could make things difficult for lots of people quite easily.
There’s another problem that should be worrying the privacy advocates, too- The legal defence of invasion of privacy, when used to defend publication of a picture which may well be on view to the entire world, isn’t a very strong basis for a court case. If you stick Wanted posters of yourself all over the planet, can you call it invasion of privacy if someone recognizes you? Particularly if that someone is a piece of software?
At this point the advice has to be “be careful what you post and where you post it” as far as pictures are concerned.
Note: I’m not going to explain how third parties can use this technology, and I’d strongly suggest nobody else who knows how does, either. This could get very messy.
More about facebook tagging suggestions, facial recognition technology, facebook privacy, facebook bullies, security facial biometrics
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