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Facebook rolls out facial recognition

A while ago we wrote about how to remove tags from Facebook photos – a process that offers Facebook users a limited amount of protection if they don’t want to be identified in photos that are posted to their page or the pages of friends.

However, it seems that for every move Facebook makes towards a more private sharing environment, they make another move in the opposite direction. The latest innovation to get the attention of privacy advocates is automatic face recognition.

Although the feature was quietly introduced in the U.S. last December, its roll-out in Europe has not been quite so seamless. And the hubbub across the Pond appears to be raising fresh concerns over here.

In theory, Facebook’s tag suggestions feature is supposed to make your life easier. Now, when a photo is uploaded to Facebook, it uses face recognition technology to match people in the new photo against photos that have been previously uploaded and suggest names – or tags – for you to accept.

That’s right – if you have previously tagged your best friend Sally in a photo and then upload another image with Sally in it, Facebook will recognize Sally and offer to automatically tag her in the new photo. Sounds a little creepy? Lots of people think so.

The feature is clearly designed to encourage more tagging and therefore more sharing, which, after all, is what Facebook is all about. But with more sharing comes more risk: the risk that we – or our kids – could be identified in photos that we don’t want to be identified in.

Luckily, Facebook has learned a few lessons from previous privacy flaps and has provided a way for users to turn off facial recognition. Although it’s turned on by default, it only takes a few clicks to disable it. Here’s how you do it:

  • Click on the arrow next to Account and then click on Privacy Settings.
  • Click on Customize Settings.
  • Scroll down to Suggest photos of me to friends and click on Edit Settings.
  • Click the arrow next to Enabled and then choose Disabled. Click Okay to save your settings.

Keep in mind that your friends will still be able to manually tag you in photos, but at least you have removed the prompt that encourages them to do so!

Comment by Jean Parks, posted 6/9/2011, 8:43 PM:

I've figured out my primary beef with Facebook, it's the fact that you've got to jump thru hoops to disable things that invade your family's privacy. Most average people would hsve no clue how to go about disabling this feature.
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