Privacy advocates criticize Facebook’s facial recognition policy, NTIA meetings continue

July 28, 2015 - 

Facebook’s use of facial recognition technology is once again under criticism from privacy advocates, who have argued that the technology should only be used with explicit permission, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Facebook has long defended its use of facial recognition technology for its “tag suggestions” photo feature, which is automatically turned on when U.S. users sign up for a Facebook account.

The social media network disabled the feature in Europe and Canada after privacy advocate groups raised concerns. Though Facebook says that members are able to opt-out of the feature at any time, disabling the feature requires users to change their settings.

“Facebook isn’t getting permission,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology. “Facial recognition is one of those categories of data where a very prominent and a very clear consent is necessary.”

Privacy advocates have said that the U.S. government’s regulation of face data collected by companies is inadequate.

“Face recognition data can be collected without a person’s knowledge,” said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s very rare for a fingerprint to be collected without your knowledge.”

Several privacy groups including the EFF walked out of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration meeting last month over the business community’s opposition to requiring the public’s consent before using facial recognition technology.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration continued its meeting today, without most of the privacy advocates, in an effort to implement guidelines that will instill greater transparency and data protection regarding facial recognition technology, according to a report by Broadcasting Cable.

NTIA distributed two sets of stakeholder draft guidelines prior to today’s meeting with stakeholders.

The meeting is intended to figure out if these drafts fit together and discuss how the two drafts can be amended.
The meeting is one of several that NTIA has since it first launched in February 2014.

Last month, several stakeholders withdrew from the process, including Center for Digital Democracy, the Center on Privacy and Technology, ACLU, Common Sense Media, Center for Democracy & Technology, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Consumer Action.

The groups stated that they did not feel confident that the meetings would lead to establishing guidelines that enforced proper data protections.

In particular, the groups felt that industry stakeholders were unable to agree on an opt-in model, and called for the re-evaluation of the effectiveness of the multistakeholder process at large.

Previously reported, Facebook head of artificial intelligence Yann LeCun said the company has been developing an experimental facial recognition technology that can use various visual clues in photos to identify individuals.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.