There Really Are Privacy Issues Out There; Facebook Using Facial Recognition Is Not One Of Them

from the crying-virtual-wolf dept

There’s been a lot of fuss over the news that Facebook extended a feature on its photo tagging to Europe, using facial recognition to try to help people more easily tag photos of their friends. Of course, as with almost everything Facebook does, this kicked off a firestorm of protest concerning privacy issues, though I have to think that most of those complaining don’t actually understand the technology in question. The privacy-extremist group EPIC, along with some other anti-tech/anti-innovation groups like the incredibly misnamed “Consumer Watchdog” asked the FTC to investigate. US Congressional Rep. Ed Markey has warned the company and also asked the FTC to get involved. And, of course, the EU announced its own investigation. Amusingly, all of the US outrage over this seems to miss out on the fact that this feature was rolled out in the US months ago.

And what’s all of the fuss about? The ability of your friends to more quickly identify you in a photo? Where is the privacy violation? There isn’t any.

It doesn’t run the facial recognition and identify everyone in all photos. It just means when you upload new photos, it suggests who might be in them for you to tag. The user still needs to officially do the tagging, which they could have done already. And, if it really bothers people, it’s easy to turn the feature off. The whole thing is a clear moral panic, and as some people are noting, these sorts of things take attention away from actual privacy issues. On top of that, the technology is already in use in lots of other places that no one complained about. The whole thing just seems like a bunch of people getting angry over something they don’t understand… which makes it perfect for a bit of XtraNormal video action, and Kashmir Hill delivers an excellent video highlighting the absurdity:

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Comments on “There Really Are Privacy Issues Out There; Facebook Using Facial Recognition Is Not One Of Them”

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Scote (profile) says:

There is a danger because this is data agregation

And what’s all of the fuss about? The ability of your friends to more quickly identify you in a photo? Where is the privacy violation? There isn’t any.”

Yeah, actually, there is a danger. By running facial recognition facebook is making data aggregation public. Individual details about your life on the internet aren’t a big deal–until they are aggregated. When you aggregate many small details, you get a detailed picture, and privacy erodes.

In most cases, data agregation happens behind the scenes, at companies like Google, Facebook and Doubleclick, all of whom have detailed profiles about us–profiles that are made up out of aggregated data, when combined with other databases, like loyalty card data, credit card purchase data and so on, you have less privacy than every before. The Facebook facial recognition program may seem trivial compared to that, but it really isn’t, because it is data aggregation that is made public, without permission. It is invasive. Granted, Google could do this, too, as part of its image search. Should it? Just to be competitive.

Just because something isn’t the worst privacy violation doesn’t mean it isn’t one.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

There is a danger because this is data agregation

By running facial recognition facebook is making data aggregation public.


The data is already public.

Here’s how it worked before:
1) Alice uploads photo with Bob in it to Facebook.
2) Alice takes 3 seconds to tag photo with Bob’s name.

Here’s how it works now:
1) Alice uploads photo with Bob in it to Facebook.
2) Facebook runs facial identification and suggest that the photo has Bob in it.
2) Alice takes 1 second to click OK to tag photo with Bob’s name.

PW (profile) says:

Features in that video

Perhaps it’s worth keeping in mind that what Facebook starts out with isn’t always the end of their plans. While explaining that it was not being done, the video mentioned a very interesting use of this facial recognition, the ability to upload a picture and find out who it is. Wouldn’t this be useful too, especially if you couldn’t remember that person’s name with whom you spent several hours chatting at a social event you attended? Wouldn’t it be convenient to have such a capability and run all your photos through the facial recognition engine since you remember having seen them at other events you both attended? How about running all of your friends’ photos through it? Why would this be such a big deal, after all you met this person in meatspace and want to see who you know in common or what events they might enjoy. My point being that saying a feature is helpful without considering its wider application and possible longer terms effects is exactly what got us into the privacy gotchas we are in today.

I can think of many privacy infringing uses of this new tech and the fact that it was deployed six months ago and didn’t get a lot of attention doesn’t make it OK. Note, there are also no stated limits on what they can do with it, so just because they’re using it in one way now doesn’t mean they won’t use it in more privacy infringing ways later.

Our privacy is eroding a little bit at a time. At some point we either have to draw the line on what is acceptable or simply find other platforms that have shown themselves to be more respectful of users. To suggest that this new auto-tagging feature is really that useful is also somewhat ludicrous. It’s just the lowest barrier to entry for Facebook to deploy it claiming some utility for users 😉

Khory (profile) says:

Features in that video

Are you just making up hypothetical scenarios to scare people?

The tech isn’t dangerous, it is how it is used. That applies to many techs.

This implementation only suggests people YOU ALREADY KNOW. If you can’t remember who that is they won’t (or shouldn’t) be in your friend list.

There are certainly ways facial recognition could be used to erode privacy. If Facebook ever implements one of them I’ll be right there with you storming their gates. This use of the tech however, isn’t any more risk than what you already assume by having a Facebook account at all.

Our privacy is being taken away by lots of things. Heck, with Facebook you give it away willingly. The addition of this feature doesn’t make Facebook any less private.

taoareyou (profile) says:


If you work in any city, on an average business day, your face is probably showing up on several hundred cameras: traffic cams, ATM cams, store security cams, office security cams, etc. I think it’s also a safe bet that if the government wanted to find you, they already have facial recognition software and access to pretty much any of those cams.

Upset about your friends tagging you faster on Facebook? Yes, I’m sure the government would love you to be concerned about that instead.

chuck says:

Another great example why in my opinion you should have to take a simple test and get a license to go on the internet.
People screw up (hack, file share copyrighted materials, whatever) they get a ticket, then eventually lose their license just like driving.
Idiots don’t want to be identified in Face Book…
Then don’t post your pictures. Dumb asses.

sumquy (profile) says:

i don’t use facebook, but the way this feature is described, as a really convenient and cool function for the user, isn’t an invasion of privacy.

the problem is that as a company, facebook has access to this facial recognition database in aggregate. what responsibilities does facebook have not to sell that data to every buyer, whether corporate or government, in the world? a privacy policy that changes on a daily basis and is 56 pages long?

i’ve lost count of the companies that have the legal right to turn me into a humancentipad because of all the “agreements” i’ve clicked through. i would be uncomfortable with it from any company, but this makes me more nervous than most precisely because it is facebook, a company with a dismal record in privacy related issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

The concerns are that facebook will store that information (of course) and they tend to give out YOUR info to the US Gov tends on “good faith” assuming they won’t do anything bad with it.

That’s a very bad assumption on the part of facebook. Remember, this isn’t twitter, they likely won’t challenge the US gov and will simply roll over.

And the user can’t opt out. Ever. At all. If I don’t put my pictures on facebook, other people can, and can tag me, and now facebook has my face in their DB.

So.. if I don’t want to be in facebook`s DB (and the US govt`s in the process) then I should just never leave my home again? Thanks facebook.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m more concerned about Google’s email scanning. You see, I’ve been discussing with some family that I might have a medical condition via email. I also just got a Google phone and synced my email. Now I’m getting what appears to be targeted ads in the android app marketplace about some app to track the medical condition. That is very creepy, and I hope it’s a coincidence, but I doubt it.

Carlson Yamamoto (user link) says:

Facebook has a new competitor

Alexa recent data reports during the same period facebook saw a decline of over 6 million users in north america, onlymeworld saw an increase of 1800% in that same period. It’s true their membership is small compared to Facebook, but at their rate of growth, in no time at all they will become a major competitor.

Perhaps the reason onlymeworld is experiencing this kind of growth is because it doesn’t it’s users for their real names & email addresses. Or maybe because it has custom privacy settings. Or maybe because if you were to combine facebook, twitter, and linkedln all into one your have onlymeworld. Or maybe it’s because they don’t track their users on the web.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Facebook is worth $100 Billion in Q1 of 2012.

ONLYMEWORLD the new facebook alternative, or perhaps the New Industry Standard?!

Anonymous Coward says:

The new facial recognition doesn’t specifically violate privacy, but it does encourage much wider tagging of photos, which can lead to people getting much more exposure online than they would like to have.

Based on what I see on Facebook, most people don’t appear to be very aggressive about tagging images. They sometime tag a couple of images in a set, or only tag the main subject, and don’t tag all the others.

With the new system, there is potential that in a series of 20 images, you could be tagged in all 20. That increases you online exposure, and increases the time required to untag yourself from each image.

Facebook does it to try to push more social links. The result? Facebook is losing subscribers in the US now. It’s hard to deny facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook has a new competitor

Facebook is a fad. Like myspace. It will die off. Facebook: People will get tired of reading other people’s pointless rants about random shit no one care about.

What do you do when you built your business on a business model that was proved to fail after a few years? You add stupid features to keep your users and keep banking in the millions.

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