Facebook is taking into consideration the possibility of incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members’ profile photos into its growing facial recognition database and thus expanding the entire scope of the social network’s controversial technology.
This move, which Facebook has revealed in a revise to its data use policy on Thursday, is intended to advance the performance of its “Tag Suggest” feature. The feature itself uses facial recognition technology to speed up the process of “tagging” friends that appear in photos.
At the moment the technology automatically identifies faces in newly uploaded photos by comparing them only to previous snapshots in which users were tagged.
Facebook users can choose to remove tags identifying them in photos posted by others. The proposed changes would come at a time when Facebook’s privacy is under scrutiny, following the news of a U.S. government electronic surveillance program. The likes of Facebook and Google have insisted that they have never willingly participated in any program giving the government direct access to their computer servers and that they only provide information in response to specific requests, after careful review and as required by the law.
Facebook Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, said that adding members’ public profile photos would give the user better control over their personal information, by making it easier to identify posted photos in which they appear. “Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service.” she said. Egan stressed that Facebook users uncomfortable with facial recognition technology will still be able to “opt out” of the Tag Suggest feature altogether, in which case the person’s public profile photo would not be included in the facial recognition database. Egan said Facebook was not currently using facial recognition technology for any other features, but that could change. “Can I say that we will never use facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not…if we decided to use it in different ways we will continue to provide people transparency about that and we will continue to provide control.” Egan said. Facebook also made amendments to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, so that members under 18 years of age are deemed to have affirmed that a parent or legal guardian has agreed to allow marketers to use some of their personal information in advertisements.
Google+, also employs similar technology, but requires user consent. And it has banned third-party software makers from using facial recognition technology in apps designed for its Glass wearable computer.
[Image via ddanzi]