Once again, Facebook is embroiled in a privacy debate, this time over its new facial recognition feature.
A couple of days ago, Facebook implemented the new “tag suggestions” feature that allow users to identify people from multiple photos at the same time, using facial-recognition software. And in true Facebook style, they rolled out the new element with not so much as a whisper of an announcement on their own site.
Some people are pissed, including European Union data protection users and a privacy group called The Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Personally, this doesn’t bother me much—it’s easy to opt out of being recognized, and even easier to untag yourself. But some are wondering why the new feature is “opt-out” rather than “opt-in,” and why, when you’re a part of Facebook, one is signing away their privacy by default. As Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey said in a statement, “If this new feature is as useful as Facebook claims, it should be able to stand on its own, without an automatic sign-up that changes users' privacy settings without their permission.”
Google is usually the first to be one step ahead of the game, but even they decided against using facial recognition technology back in April. The company is being careful after a public backlash against their own stealthy roll-outs of Google Buzz and Google Street View.
It seems that all of Facebook’s problems would be solved if they quit trying new features under the radar. For a company that has completely changed the way we interact online, it has a lot to learn about engaging successfully with its own users.
In case you're wondering how to change your settings, here's a Fast Company post on how to block Facebook's face recognition, and tighten up other privacy options.