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Facebook facial-recognition feature draws criticism

June 09, 2011|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times

Facebook Inc.'s new facial-recognition feature is getting some unwelcome recognition from a prominent privacy group and lawmakers.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center said it plans to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the feature, which allows users to identify a person in a photo uploaded to Facebook based on previous pictures of the person on the site.

"We think the facial-recognition feature raises real questions about what sort of data Facebook is collecting from its users and from its users' photographs," John Verdi, the privacy center's senior counsel, said Wednesday.

"And it also raises questions about what Facebook does with this user data once it collects it and who else is accessing that data after it's collected."

Facebook announced Tuesday in a company blog post that it planned to roll out the feature across its entire social network, which has more than 500 million worldwide users. Testing of the feature began last year, and it's already in use on the site in the U.S.

Facebook users who don't want to be identified by people using the new feature can opt out. "You will be able to disable suggested tags in your privacy settings," the company said in its post. "Just click 'Customize Settings' and 'Suggest photos of me to friends.' Your name will no longer be suggested in photo tags, though friends can still tag you manually."

But making the process opt-out instead of opt-in raised the ire of Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus.

"Requiring users to disable this feature after they've already been included by Facebook is no substitute for an opt-in process," Markey said in a statement.

"If this new feature is as useful as Facebook claims, it should be able to stand on its own, without an automatic sign-up that changes users' privacy settings without their permission."

In response to concerns, Facebook issued a statement Wednesday saying the company could have done a better job explaining to users how the facial-recognition feature works.

"We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them," the statement said.

Facebook declined to comment further.

nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com

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