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In December of 2010, Facebook revealed plans to implement facial recognition technology, allowing users to tag photos easier on the popular social networking site. According to Facebook, over 100 million tags are added to photos by users each day. In an attempt to make the “chore” of tagging friends easier for users, Facebook developed the “Tag Suggestion” feature. When a photo is uploaded to Facebook, the site will use facial recognition software to match new photos to other, already-tagged, photos . Facebook will suggest the name of the individual in the photo, allowing one-click tagging, rather than having to repeatedly type in friends’ names. Instead of allowing users to opt into the recently implemented “Tag Suggestion” feature, Facebook made the feature apply to every Facebook user by default. Even though users can opt out of “Tag Suggestion,” various privacy rights groups have raised concerns.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in conjunction with the Center for Digital Democracy, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and Consumer Watchdog, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging the FTC to examine Facebook’s implementation of facial-recognition technology. In the complaint, the parties allege that “Tag Suggestions” is an “unfair and deceptive” practice.
Outside of the United States, international organizations are already investigating whether the facial recognition feature violates privacy rules. In Europe, privacy laws are stricter than in the United States. The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, a branch of the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice, will seek out any potential privacy violations and then advise national data protection agencies. The national data protection agencies could act on the organizations findings by seeking punishments for Facebook. Individual countries within the European Union, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, have also launched probes into the legality of “Tag Suggestions.”
This is not the first time privacy concerns were raised with regards to Facebook; just ask Ashley Payne, a 24-year old teacher whose vacation photos with alcohol led to the loss of her job. Although unfortunate, it is difficult to sympathize with Facebook users claiming that their privacy was violated. Facebook is a social networking site, in which users voluntarily share information about themselves with others. Maybe Facebook is at fault for not giving users the default choice to opt-in to the “Tag Suggestion” feature, but it certainly does allow users to “opt-out.” If you don’t have a Facebook account, users won’t be able to tag photos of you. Facebook provides the opportunity to connect with others across the globe, an act that inherently brings with it a voluntarily choice to shed the veil of total privacy. Its unclear whether the FTC, or other organizations launching probes into Facebook, will find a violation of existing privacy laws. However, one thing is clear: Maybe those concerned with the violation of their privacy should take the time to change their privacy settings and turn off the “Tag Suggestion” feature, or otherwise, not involve themselves with a site developed to share personal information.
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