Facebook to be probed in EU for facial recognition feature

14:22, June 09, 2011      

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Facebook Inc. will be probed by European Union (EU) regulators over its latest facial recognition feature rolling out worldwide, U.S. media reported on Wednesday.

The feature, called Tag Suggestions, uses face recognition software to match users' new photos to other photos they are tagged in. It groups similar photos together and suggests the name of the friend in the photos.

Facebook rolled out the feature in the United States late last year, where users can opt out of the feature by going to their private settings. But Facebook switched it on by default without telling users first when it became available on Tuesday in countries outside of the United States.

A group of privacy watchdogs from 27 EU nations will study the measure for possible rule violations, a Luxembourg official of Article 29 Data Protection Working Party told Bloomberg. The Working Party, an independent EU advisory body on data protection and privacy, comprises the data protection regulators of all the 27 EU member states.

"Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people' s prior consent and it can't be activated by default," said the Luxembourg official, Gerald Lommel. He noted that such automatic features "can bear a lot of risks for users" and the European data- protection regulators will "clarify to Facebook that this can't happen like this."

Authorities in Britain and Ireland said they are also looking into the new function on Facebook. The British Information Commissioner's Office told Bloomberg that "the privacy issues that this new software might raise are obvious," saying it is "speaking to Facebook" about the issue.

Facebook has been under scrutiny by EU regulators for several privacy concerns, such as users' default settings and how the company uses the information collected from its social network website.

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