Germany Wants to Halt Facebook Facial Recognition

   on August 04 2011 12:04 PM

Johannes Caspar, data protection supervisor in Hamburg, Germany, has asked Facebook to stop running its facial recognition feature on German users and to delete their biometric data, reported UK paper Guardian.

If Facebook does not comply, it could be fined up to 300,000 euros under German law, said Caspar.

"If the data were to get into the wrong hands, then someone with a picture taken on a mobile phone could use biometrics to compare the pictures and make an identification...The right to anonymity is in danger," said Caspar to a German paper, reported Guardian.

Indeed, the main objection of many critics isn't that Facebook itself will abuse the data in the near future.  Rather, it's the existence of biometric data, which could fall into the wrong hands via hacking or the infiltration of social circles by fake Facebook accounts.

Moreover, there is a risk that the stewardship of Facebook and its data may fall into the hands of management that are open to cooperation with oppressive regimes.  It could be "used by undemocratic governments to spy on the opposition or by security services around the world," said Caspar.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) pointed out that Facebook possesses the largest private collection of labeled facial photographs in the world.

As such, the compromising of that database poses significant risks worldwide.  German officials are far from the first to raise concerns about the Facebook facial recognition program.  Officials in the U.S., EU, UK, and Ireland have all publicized their objections.

Besides the collection of the biometric data, officials are also concerned that the feature is opt-out rather than opt-in.  That is, users automatically participate in the program unless they opt-out.

Caspar said "should Facebook maintain the function, it must ensure that only data from persons who have declared consent."

In the meantime, here is how users worldwide can opt-out of the Facebook facial recognition feature on various levels.

Disable the Facebook facial recognition auto-suggest function for photo tagging

Go to Account (upper right corner of homepage) - Privacy Settings - Custom settings (bottom middle) - Suggest photos of me to friends - Enabled/Disabled (check Disabled)

Request Facebook to remove your "summary information" from its facial recognition database

Login to Facebook - Click on this link - Click the "contact us" hyperlink (In the sentence "You can contact us to request that we remove all of your photo summary information") - send Facebook the automated message that pops up in the box

 

 

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