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February 08, 2013

Facebook Removes all Facial Recognition Data from EU Market

By Jody Ray Bennett, TMCnet Contributing Writer

Two separate data regulation individuals have each confirmed on February 7 that Facebook (News - Alert) has removed all facial recognition data in the European Union, PC World reports. This is due to complaints about privacy and facial recognition on the social network.

In September 2012 Facebook said it would delete all facial recognition data in its servers about European users, as well as adjusting its privacy policies in order to comply with Irish laws. Facial recognition allows the social network to detect people in photos and then to tell if the person is one of their users. The data is used to suggest who to tag (News - Alert) in photos automatically. Facebook had stopped enabling new accounts having facial recognition at the time of the announcement and had only to delete existing users’ data.

Facebook’s international headquarters is located in Ireland, meaning it falls under the jurisdiction of both Irish and EU data protection laws. The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information and the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner both were able to confirm that the facial recognition feature and data were deleted. They inspected Facebook source code and each independently came to the conclusion that it was indeed gone.

The Hamburg Data Protection Commissioner was concerned that collecting facial recognition data without explicit consent from users was a breach of privacy. Permissions to collect the data was part of Facebook’s license agreement but was never explicitly stated to users. The removal of the data means that Facebook is no longer being investigated for privacy concerns.

Facial recognition and auto-tagging suggestions are still in use in the United States. There are no plans to bring facial recognition back to Europe. A similar concern cropped up when people’s faces were included in European Google (News - Alert) Streetview Data.

Edited by Ashley Caputo
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