Facebook Confirms 2 Billion Users Will Now Need To Opt In To Facial Recognition
Facebook is following in Apple’s footsteps in the privacy stakes after confirming that its facial recognition feature will be opt-in only. Facebook said in a blog that its facial recognition feature would now be turned off by default for new and existing users.
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Starting on September 3, facial recognition will be automatically off for new users unless they choose to turn it on. It will also be off for existing users who do nothing in response to a notice from the social network about the new settings.
Following the move, Facebook won’t use facial recognition to recognize you in photos and videos, or to suggest your friends tag you into this content.
In December 2017 Facebook introduced the new features for some users that it said would give them more control over how their photos were used on the social network. The tools had a single “on/off” control.
Facebook and the importance of privacy
Facebook’s move comes at a time when people are increasingly aware of their privacy. Other tech giants are already beginning to respond. Indeed, Apple is introducing a feature that deals a blow to Facebook in its upcoming iOS 13 operating system, that won’t allow the app to collect data in the background when not in use.
People who still have the tag suggestions setting will begin to see a notice in their news feed starting today, said Srinivas Narayanan, applied research lead, Facebook AI.
This notice will include information about the new features and a button to keep it on or turn it off. “If you do not currently have the face recognition setting and do nothing, we will not use face recognition to recognize you or suggest tags,” said Narayanan.
However, if you already have the face recognition setting, you won’t receive a notice. Meanwhile, if you do nothing, face recognition will remain off for you.
Facebook’s data collection practices
Opt-in only should already be the default for anything that collects your data. This move sees Facebook put itself in line with one of its biggest rivals and competitors, Apple. However, the social network has based its entire business model on data collection for years. And it highlights how much tech giants can find out about your from your photos.
“It’s fantastic that Facebook will keep this an optional feature defaulted off but what it really highlights is how much more personal data they are able to collect,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity expert at ESET. “Whether you are on Facebook or not, they learn a great deal from users’ uploaded photos from where you were and who you were with. It’s effectively like CCTV.”
Independent security researcher Sean Wright agrees, saying the move to opt in “is certainly a good thing.”
However, he adds: “Facebook still has your data and still has to process those photos, so it is worth keeping that in mind.”
And the move by Facebook is probably not just for the sake of its users. A few weeks ago, a San Francisco court rejected an attempt by the social network that alleged Facebook had gathered millions of users’ data unlawfully using facial recognition technology. Significantly, this class action lawsuit was filed by users in Illinois, which, like the EU GDPR requires consent before the collection of biometric data.
“This is yet another privacy related change driven by the fear of legal cases,” says ethical hacker John Opdenakker. “These cases may have more impact on giant companies like Facebook then we think. It’s yet another reactive action instead of being proactive and implementing privacy by design. That is what I really want to see changing.”
So, should you enable the facial recognition feature? There is, of course an argument for it, if it helps you to see when people use your photo to set up fake profiles on Facebook. But the question you have to ask yourself is, is it worth the privacy trade off? Probably not.