Irish privacy regulators confirm Facebook wiped facial recognition data in Europe

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Yesterday the Irish Data Protection Commission and a German regular independently confirmed that Facebook completely deleted its facial recognition templates, CFO World reports, as Facebook had promised to do by October 15.

Facebook’s facial recognition feature, used as a photo tagging aid and recently relaunched to the United States, was blocked by the committee. After reviewing Facebook’s privacy policy, facial recognition was black listed from the European Union altogether and Facebook has been required to work with the committee to adhere to the privacy regulations in the EU since 2011.

In an email, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s spokeswoman, Ciara O’Sullivan, told CFO World that, “We recently reviewed the source code and execution process used in the deletion process and can confirm that we were satisfied with the processes used by Facebook to delete the templates in line with its commitment.”

Note that Facebook is subject to the Irish Data Protection Commission because the company’s European office is headquartered in Ireland. Major corporations’ European headquarters are based out of Ireland to avoid U.S. income taxes. But to its detriment, Facebook’s Irish office means that it’s subject to stringent privacy regulations.

The German privacy regulator, Hamburg’s commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, also confirmed that the facial recognition code and data had been wiped in the EU. Facebook’s compliance also officially closed the Hamburg DPC’s privacy case against Facebook.

Facial recognition for now has been shut off for new users signing up for Facebook in the EU, and it wasn’t until recently that the facial recognition templates that were used to identify existing users had been completely wiped.

What we know about the facial recognition tech, powered by its acquisition, is that the data is used to recommend friends and other users to tag in Facebook photos. What we didn’t know, although we could have guessed, was that Facebook’s database was teeming with facial data, collected without the expressed consent of its users. The credit leading up to this discovery and also the primary reason that Facebook has been forced to work with privacy regulators in Europe can be credited to the work of one individual, 24-year-old law student Max Schrems and his activist organization, Europe v. Facebook.

As for the U.S., while the feature has been rereleased despite some politicians in Capitol Hill feeling uneasy about the existence of facial recognition, the Federal Trade Commission hasn’t stepped in like the IDPC has done already. And despite its work with the Irish DPC to edit its privacy policy and features, Facebook has been bold enough not to make any changes in the United States.

Facebook confirmed with CFO World that facial recognition will remain off “for the moment.” 

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