Facebook Drops Default Facial Recognition Tag Suggestions

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Facebook will allow users to “opt out” of its face recognition feature.

Facebook is giving users more control over a facial recognition feature used by the company to help identify, or Tag, people on its platform. Starting Tuesday, the company said it would allow its users to opt-out of the Tag Suggestions feature, while at the same time the company is attempting to help users better understand what the feature does.

Facebook said it will replace the default Tag Suggestions setting on its platform – which automatically offered suggestions for users to be tagged in friends’ photos – with a new privacy button, called Face Recognition, which users can manually turn off if they don’t want their biometrics to be leveraged in suggested photo tags.

(Video demonstrates how to turn off Facebook’s Face Recognition feature)

“Starting today, people who newly join Facebook or who previously had the tag suggestions setting will have the face recognition setting and will receive information about how it works,” said Srinivas Narayanan, applied research lead at Facebook AI in a Tuesday post. “Our face recognition setting lets you manage not only whether Facebook uses face recognition technology on photos of you in order to suggest tags; it provides an easy on or off switch for a broader set of uses of face recognition, such as helping you protect your identity on Facebook.”

While the feature was first announced and tested on a subset of users in 2017, starting on Tuesday it is being rolled out globally to all Facebook’s users.

Turning the setting off means that Facebook will delete users’ “face recognition template” and will no longer recognize them in photos or suggest anyone be tagged in photos (although Facebook users will still be able to manually tag friends).

A face recognition template is a unique number made for Facebook users who opt in to the feature, which allows Facebook to analyze photos and videos on users’ Facebook accounts and compare it to other photos, videos and media like live video for recognition. Facebook said in its privacy policies that it does not share user templates.

When the face recognition feature is on, meanwhile, Facebook can notify users about photos they are in but haven’t been tagged in, and can tell people with visual impairments that they are in a photo or video.

Facebook says the feature also helps protect users against someone trying to impersonate them.

The new opt in feature comes on the heels of an ongoing U.S. lawsuit against Facebook, which alleges that the social media giant illegally collected the biometric data for millions of users without their consent, utilizing facial recognition technology. It also comes as concern around biometrics privacy continues to make the news, with biometrics security company Suprema and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection both recently being part of data incidents.

In terms of biometrics, “Facebook’s face recognition technology still does not recognize you to strangers,” stressed Narayanan. “We don’t share your face recognition information with third parties. We also don’t sell our technology.”

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