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Facebook Pictures and Privacy Concerns with Facial Recognition Technology

Facebook is struggling to decide how to handle its pictures. While consumer companies urge Facebook to profit from its face recognition technology, international regulators insist that user identities remain protected. According to a New York Times article entitled, Facebook Can ID Face, But Using Them Grows Tricky, Facebook agreed to delete user identification information, which the site gathers through facial recognition technology. The technology at issue is Facebook’s “tag suggestion” which automatically matches names with faces when a user uploads a photo. Facebook has deactivated this feature to make improvements that international regulators can approve.

Chris Hoofnalge, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, School of Law stated in the article that increasing developments in this field “directly affects civil liberties.” Although, the public is more likely to accept using identifying information from facial recognition technology for security purposes, Wall Street is now pressuring Facebook to utilize its users’ personal data for profit. Legislators, such as Senator Al Franken, have expressed concern over Facebook’s “database of face prints,” which Facebook has gathered “without the explicit consent of its users.” Franken urged Facebook to provide the same right of privacy to its American users as it does its European counterparts.

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has issued a guide, “Facing Facts Best Practices for Common Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies,” aimed at defining facial recognition technology and outlining authorized uses. In addition, earlier this year Google announced a new tool that would allow individuals to blur their faces in YouTube videos. This is one of the first steps to provide “visual anonymity” in cyberspace.

In a Villanova Law Review comment entitled, “Every Breath You take, Every Move You Make, I’ll Be Watching You: The Use of Face Recognition Technology,” author Bridget Mallon paints a picture of a future where surveillance cameras have the capacity to instantly look up an individual’s entire history and record from a picture. And while this extreme may be a reality of a far more distant future, the privacy threats of face recognition and video surveillance are concerns today. The threat that Facebook employs face recognition technology stems from a concern that the website will then allow access to this data for surveillance purposes. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has warned the FTC that it should prohibit any law enforcement agency from using Facebook’s face recognition technology and database “absent a showing of adequate legal process, consistent with international human rights norms.” As the technology continues to develop, the FTC is conducting studies to better understand the benefits and consequences of face recognition capabilities. However, in the meantime, Facebook’s database of personal information and pictures continues to grow, absent any real limitations.

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