Facebook face recognition fallout: Should you be worried?

suggested tagsYesterday Facebook announced the international rollout of its face recognition feature for tagging photos. The tool was implemented for North American users way back in December, at which point people went through the obligatory Facebook-privacy scare phase. Compared to some of the site’s other updates, however, the fallout was mild. But now that Facebook face recognition has made its way overseas, it’s time for a renewed round of outrage.

Why people are worried

Face recognition was rolled out to a group of Facebook users stateside earlier this year, but the increased attention has caused new user worries and insights from security experts. As with every new Facebook update, some of the concern can be blamed on hype and over-zealous speculation.

Just last week at the D9 Conference, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt talked about the consequences of how quickly this technology is moving. “We actually built that technology and we withheld it. As far as I know it’s the only technology Google built and after looking at it we decided to stop.” He also commented that it has the potential to be used in “very bad way[s] as well as [in] a very good way.”

It’s also sparked renewed Facebook privacy concern because of the recent attention the site has been receiving. Some government authorities believe all Facebook settings and applications should be opt-in, meaning they are turned off until users say otherwise. Now, it functions the other way around. This high-profile new feature will become something of a soap box for privacy proponents to stand on.

The good

Facebook is the most popular platform for photo sharing, and was recently granted a patent for its tagging system. The method in which you are notified of newly tagged images of yourself and how you respond to them is specifically what Facebook originated, and it’s a system that has changed the way we interact with and use photos online. There are useful qualities to tagging: It’s an easy way to share photos with the people in them, and adds an organizational element. In some cases, being able to match a name and face have proved useful (we know, this also lends itself to some stalker tendencies, but we’re still on the good for now). In a blog post about the new feature, Facebook explained that while users love only meusing tags, actually going through photos and tagging them is a chore. Called “Suggested Tags,” Facebook uses software (that it notes is “similar to that used in many photo editing tools”) to match new photos to ones you’ve previously taken.  And as usual, anyone can disable the feature – if you really want to, you can set your account so tagged photos are visible to you only.

The bad

The social network already has a strong grip over millions of people’s personal information, and this seems like a final step toward knowing everything there is to know about us – what we look like. The feature means that the more we tag people the more Facebook’s technology learns about our appearance, and even if you opt-out the system will still recognize you. It might not be broadcast to your friends, but the data about your image will still be in Facebook’s hands and it will have a searchable collection of all its users’ photos.

What’s also unfortunate is you have no idea if this software has been used for your image. Unless you keep up on Facebook news (which it’s actually quite hard not to) or religiously read the site’s blog, you may have missed this boat altogether. If you see that you’ve been tagged in a photo, there’s nothing that alerts you saying “this photo was tagged using face opt outrecognition software” or “this photo was tagged by your friend manually.” Of course, there is a way to opt-out, but it stands to reason that quite a few users are just finding that out now.

Enabling tagging in general comes with some obvious strings attached: It gives the world access to anything anyone (depending on your privacy settings) tags of you. And if you have any less than discreet contacts or activities, this can be dangerous. But at the very least, you are (in nearly every situation) being identified by people you know who took a photo of you. This update means you’re being identified by Facebook, which can be a scary thing.

EU privacy probe

The EU has not looked kindly on Facebook’s privacy, or lack thereof. BusinessWeek reports that Gerard Lommel, a member of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party says “Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default…[this] can bear a lot of risks for users.” Authorities want to “clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.” The new recognition software isn’t the only problem: Investigators want to challenge Facebook’s tagging system altogether. Would it be nice to approve photos tagged of you before they hit your profile? Yes. Is that going to happen? Probably not. Facebook hasn’t required your preapproval to tagged photos from day one, and that was awhile ago. Sure, it didn’t have 500 million people’s pictures in 2005, but it would be challenging to reverse this policy.

Questions

There are a few things that are still unclear. For instance, if someone uses the new software to tag a photo of you that you then untag, does Facebook un-recognize your likeness? Or is that information still stored, and it realizes you simply untagged the photo for preference’s sake and not because it wasn’t you?

And what’s the end game here? This question seems to be what’s most upsetting privacy proponents. If Facebook is able to create a searchable database of its users’ images, wouldn’t that mean it’s possible to search for someone with nothing more than a photo? That means a stranger could take your picture, upload it to Facebook, and find you. Of course, enabling user image search could be the furthest thing from Facebook’s mind – but the fact that it would be possible is a little chilling.

Just to take this to conspiracy theory levels, were the feature to become said database and a widely accepted technology on Facebook, misidentification could pose a problem. All sorts of issues could arise by having your likeness swapped with someone else’s.

Mobile

Honor to out-megapixel the competition with 48MP camera on upcoming View 20

After its phenomenal success with the View 10 in 2018, it looks like Honor is getting ready up the ante with its forthcoming Honor View 20. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.
Wearables

These are the best smartwatches for everything from fashion to fitness

Tempted to buy a smartwatch? If so, then the growing number of great models available means you've got plenty to choose from. But which one should you pick? Here is our list of the best smartwatches.
Mobile

Put down the controller and pick up the best phones for gaming on the go

Which phones are the best if all you want to do is play some mobile games? We've done the hard work and put together a list of the best gaming phones on Android and iOS, so you can keep playing and winning.
Computing

Microsoft’s latest patent paves the way for Andromeda dual-screen mobile device

The latest patent discovery from Microsoft showcases a new hinge design for quickly opening a dual-screen mobile device with a single hand. Could this be additional proof surrounding the rumors of the company's Project Andromeda device?
Computing

Heal your wrist aches and pains with one of these top ergonomic mice

If you have a growing ache in your wrist, it might be worth considering changing up your mouse for something ergonomic. But which is the best ergonomic mouse for you? One of these could be the ticket to the right purchase for you.
Computing

Nvidia’s Jetson AGX Xavier module is designed to give robots better brains

Nvidia's pricey Jetson AGX Xavier might help drive the next generation of smart robots. Nvidia hopes that developers will use its new Xavier module to power AI-driven machines like delivery drones and robots used in manufacturing.
Computing

These Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts will update your OG Windows skills

Windows 10 has many new features, and they come flanked with useful new keyboard shortcuts. Check out some of the new Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts to improve your user experience and save more time!
Computing

Leaked AMD Ryzen 3000 mobile benchmarks look fit for thin, low-power laptops

AMD is poised to give Intel a run for its money in the ultra-low-power processor space for laptops. Leaked benchmarks for the Ryzen 3000 APU series show the AMD processor besting Intel's Core i7 Y series in multicore performance.
Mobile

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.
Computing

Will Windows 95 be reimagined? Microsoft’s tweet hints at a throwback

The classic Windows operating system may just be getting a reboot of its own. Microsoft tweeted a cryptic message involving the Windows 95 logo and saying that it had a special announcement for its customers today.
Computing

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: Everything you need to know

The Surface Pro 6 is officially here, though it's not as big of a redesign as you might have hoped. With a new coat of black paint and an 8th-gen processor, this is a small update. If you've been eyeing a Surface Pro, you may want to wait…
Computing

Style up your MacBook Air with one of these great cases or sleeves

Whether you’re looking for added protection or a stylish flourish, you’re in the right place for the best MacBook Air cases. We have form-hugging cases, luxurious covers and padded sleeves priced from $7 to $130. Happy shopping!
Computing

Want to make one hard drive act like two? Here's how to partition in Windows

If you don't want all of your files stored in one place but only have one drive to work with, partitioning is your best way forward. Here's how to partition a hard drive in Windows 10, step by step.