Facebook wants to add profile pictures to its facial recognition database

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Facebook may add the majority of its users into a facial recognition database, according to Reuters.

The social network is considering this change to beef up their “Tag Suggest” feature, so that users can more easily identify the friends in their pictures.

Using facial recognition software makes it easier for people to tag their friends because the software compares the faces in new shots to people in other pictures on the website and offers suggestions as to who is in the photo, so that users won’t have to manually search for their friends. Right now, the current iteration of facial recognition software on Facebook only compares faces with photos in which people have been tagged in the past, but the update would use the software to comb through all photos on Facebook. This means your face could get pulled up from a sweaty night-out photo you made your friend de-tag for posterity.

Creating this more extensive database could marginally improve the user experience for tagging, but don’t expect this change to come without resistance.

Facial recognition technology is a sticky subject — many people are uncomfortable with the idea that their photos can be analyzed to spot future pictures of themselves. The privacy concerns raised by facial recognition software are severe enough in Europe that German regulators said that Facebook’s facial recognition software violated EU privacy laws, and Facebook made changes to its facial recognition policy following an investigation by Ireland’s Data Protection Committee. More recently, people have been concerned enough by facial recognition to create privacy visors, which obscure the face so it can’t be read.

Considering how hostile people are to the idea of extensive facial recognition — just look at the pains Google took to assure people that Glass would not have facial recognition capabilities — it’s a bold move on Facebook’s part to be publicly mulling over this possibility, especially considering the relatively limited payoff for the user.

Tagging friends in photos isn’t a difficult task without facial recognition software, since you can just search for a friend’s name and then click on it — it’s not like you have to manually scroll through all of your friends to find their name. It takes just a few seconds to type in the beginning of a friend’s name before it comes up. Yes, improving the tagging feature with facial recognition software would eliminate the need to manually type the letters of your friend’s name, but it would come at the cost of knowing your face is in a database. Especially since Facebook just released a report detailing how often the government requested information from the service, the idea that its facial recognition software is growing more sophisticated raises more privacy concerns than ever.

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