Facebook eliminates one biometric facial recognition feature and expands another

The facial recognition-based tag suggestion feature has been discontinued by Facebook, while the face recognition feature which alerts users when their image is recognized on the platform is being extended from some users to the rest, on an opt-in basis. Facebook announced the changes in a blog post by Facebook AI Applied Research Lead Srinivas Narayanan.

The face recognition feature, which was originally launched in late-2017, is meant to help users protect their identity, according to the company. Users who have not previously had access to the feature will be presented a notice in their News Feed about its use, along with a button for activating or deactivating it. The feature’s default setting for new users is off, unless they previously had tag suggestions enabled, in which case they will still see the notification about the changes. Photo tagging will still be available, but only manually for those who do not have face recognition enabled.

For people who already have the broader face recognition feature available, no notice will be provided, but for those who have it activated, it will perform both tag suggestions and Photo Review functions, the latter of which identifies users in untagged photos.

Narayanan writes that the company has engaged privacy experts, academics, regulators and others, and made the settings easier to understand and change. He also notes that Facebook does not share facial recognition data with third parties.

Gizmodo reports that the change is motivated by the FTC’s recent ruling that Facebook must make changes and pay $5 billion for violating user privacy. The changes demanded included stronger efforts to inform users and a requirement for explicit consent for each different usage of biometric data.

“This work is the last phase of a long-planned deprecation of the Tag Suggestions setting,” a Facebook representative told Gizmodo. “For context, the 2017 effort was the culmination of over two years of work. During this time we’ve worked to improve the rollout experience based on feedback from people, privacy stakeholders, and regulators. The FTC order is still pending approval but per our earlier post, we’ve agreed to a more comprehensive privacy framework that governs how we build our products. Face recognition is part of that conversation.”

Facebook is still facing a lawsuit over its use of facial biometrics in Illinois.

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