Less than a week after Facebook announced plans to enable face recognition across its social networking site, privacy groups demonstrated the gravity of their concerns about the new technology, filing a complaint that asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to force Facebook to end plans for the new service. The privacy groups specifically asked that the FTC stop Facebook from collecting users’ biometric data without their explicit consent. Facebook currently possesses 60 billion photographs, which privacy groups fear may be used to automate facial identification and eliminate user control over their own image. Once activated, the service could allow for recognition of 500 to 700 million users worldwide. The controversial software recommends tags to help identify individuals in a photo. Facebook admits it has done an insufficient job alerting users that the technology would be available more widely in the coming months. Even so, Facebook claims that with the limited release of the service in December, a lack of user complaints suggests people are enjoying the feature and finding it useful. Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, explained that if users want to maintain their privacy, “we made turning off Tag Suggestions easy and explained how to do so on our blog, in our Help Center, and within the interface.” Rep. Ed Markey has joined the fight, arguing, “when it comes to users’ privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: ‘Ask for permission, don’t assume it.'” The representative argues that extra protections should be in place for consumers, beyond what Facebook already provides. He went on to discourage the change in privacy settings without clear permission of the user, and he requested that the FTC closely monitor the issue to ensure such action is taken. This lawsuit is yet another blow to the social networking site, which saw US users drop by 6 million this past May. With a diverse user-base demanding advanced services, the social networking site is likely to continue to see such lawsuits as it tiptoes the line between protecting privacy and providing ease of use for its users.

— Gingie Maynard

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