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European regulators block Facebook’s Moments app due to privacy concerns

Facebook Smart Phone App
Facebook launched its Moments app earlier this week, but it’s already under some scrutiny from European regulators. The standalone app is supposed to make it easier for you to get photos of yourself that are trapped on your friend’s phones.The app uses facial recognition in order to group all photos by friend on one device, so they can be easily shared to selected friends without actually posting them on Facebook.

It’s very nifty, but European regulators aren’t impressed. Richard Allan, Facebook’s head of policy in Europe, said the app won’t be available in Europe until they reach an agreement with its regulator in Ireland. This agreement boils down to offering an opt-in option to users. Allan wrote in an email, “We don’t have an opt-in mechanism so it is turned off until we develop one.”

Unfortunately, Facebook has no timetable in place for such an option, so it’s not likely to get added to the app anytime soon.

Facebook isn’t the only one dealing with this issue. Google’s new Photos app uses facial recognition for grouping photos as well, but that feature is only available in the U.S. because of the same concerns.

The U.S. hasn’t had any issues with facial recognition — also known as “faceprint” — technology, but Europeans never accepted it. Facebook was forced to remove a similar feature that identified people in photos back in 2012, after an audit by Irish regulators.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with six other privacy organizations attempted to work with the U.S. on a “code of conduct” around facial recognition technology, but failed. The group said jointly, “At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement –and identifying them by name – using facial recognition technology. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”

It always comes down to privacy, and it’s a touchy subject with many ethical issues involved. Europe’s strict privacy rules have led to many lawsuits against Facebook, Google, and others over EU law violations. Concerns over user privacy will undoubtedly continue to pose a challenge to tech companies in the future.

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