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Stephen Logan

Is Facebook’s Facial Recognition an Invasion of Privacy Too Far?

9th Jun 2011 Social Media, Facebook, News, Industry News 2 minutes to read

If you type the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘Privacy’ into Google, you will get around 4.1 billion results (even in quotations it is still 1.8 million). This probably tells you all you need to know about how often the social networking giant runs into issues over user data.

The latest hoo-ha surrounds a brand new piece of technology, integrated within the picture upload section, which automatically tags people based on facial recognition. Great if you can’t be bothered to sift through all your contacts to tag them individually; not so useful if you’re worried about Facebook becoming a little too friendly with you and your data.

The issue Facebook has is that they have previous when it comes to privacy lapses. Stories about data being stolen are in the news on a near weekly basis. However, this is just one of the inevitable drawbacks of managing the very public profiles of over 600 million users throughout the world. To an extent, data has to be mined. It helps their advertising and helps to expand its user numbers and services.

This level of reporting invariably leads to a higher level of scrutiny. Therefore when Facebook decides to roll out a new system which, at least on the face of it (excusing the pun), looks to save users time and link more profiles, a backlash is inevitable.

In fact Sophos has gone as far as to say that it is ‘eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth’, pretty damning stuff. This is by no means the only comment questioning the ethics of such a system, in fact it has sparked widespread condemnation from many sources. What perhaps makes this surprising is the fact that it is something of a delayed reaction, especially as this feature was rolled out last year in the US.  Below are just a few of the recent posts:

Facebook sorry over face tagging launch – BBC
Facebook facial recognition system criticised – Telegraph
Facebook now knows what you look like as it rolls out face recognition by stealth – Daily Mail

Privacy on Facebook tends to have a polarising effect. There will always be a large group that claim our information is susceptible to exploitation and attack due to the flimsy defences offered by the social network. Others though will always suggest that if you choose to add personal information, pictures and otherwise private data to a public domain, you have to accept the risks that come with it.

Is facial recognition just an easier way to spy on the world, or is it just about making a mundane task a little quicker? I don’t think that it’s Skynet quite yet, but it’s certainly interesting to see how something that can be viewed as entirely inconsequential by some can also be given the greatest significance by others.

If you are worried about being tagged, Search Engine Watch has rolled out a pretty decent guide to disabling Facebook recognition.

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