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June 09, 2011

EU Regulators Looking Into Facebook's New Auto-Tagging Feature

By Beecher Tuttle, TMCnet Contributor

A European Union privacy watchdog is currently looking into Facebook's (News - Alert) controversial new feature that uses facial recognition technology for automated photo-tagging.

The social network's “tag suggestion“ feature, which has been rolled out to most EU countries over the last few months, has drawn ire from privacy regulators mainly because of the way that it was introduced.

In vintage Facebook style, the new tag (News - Alert) suggestion feature is based on an opt-in-by-default policy, meaning users who don't want anything to do with the service will have to disable it manually. Otherwise, Facebook will digitally scan your face without your consent.

An EU privacy watchdog group, known as the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, has said that it is looking into whether Facebook's use of facial recognition technology violates EU privacy regulations, according to Bloomberg.

“Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can't be activated by default,” Gerard Lommel, a Luxembourg member of the group, told the news source. This feature “can bear a lot of risks for users.” EU officials will “clarify to Facebook that this can't happen like this,” he added.

Facebook acknowledged on Wednesday that “some regulators“ have inquired about the tag suggestion feature, and are being given any information that will satisfy their concerns. The social networking giant has also apologized for the manner in which the feature was rolled out, noting that it should have been more aggressive in notifying users.

Unless users opt-out of the new feature, Facebook will scan newly-loaded photos and give tagging suggestions for individuals who are in other previously-labeled pictures. Facebook has said that the feature is a response to user complaints about being forced to tag friends over and over again, according to CNET.

Many organizations have spoken out against the automatic opt-in policy, including security firm Sophos, which noted in a blog post that the facial recognition feature “feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth.”

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Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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