Facial recognition may make the world safer, or more authoritarian, or just weirder — depending on your perspective. But computers are getting better at recognizing us, and now Facebook has decided to use that to spot photos you’re not tagged in.
According to TechCrunch, Facebook is introducing this new feature as a privacy enhancer, or so they claim:
If you’re in someone’s profile photo which is always public, you’ll always be notified. For other photos, you’ll only get notified if you’re in the audience for that photo so as to protect the uploader’s privacy and not alert you about photos you’re not allowed to see. A Photo Review section of the profile will keep track of all your untagged but recognized photos… Facebook is also adding a new overarching photo and video facial recognition opt out privacy setting that will delete its face template of you and deactivate the new Photo Review feature as well as the old Tag Suggestions that used facial recognition to speed up tagging when friends posted a photo of you.
This would seem reasonable enough, except there’s no reason to trust Facebook when it comes to actually deleting your data. Facebook has a long, very unfortunate history of keeping what you delete and making getting it off Facebook as hard as humanly possible. It may allow you to remove this feature for other people and yourself, but Facebook hasn’t earned any trust on this issue.
Fundamentally, here, the problem really is why Facebook has this data in the first place. It doesn’t seem to have ever asked users for permission to scan our faces and use machine learning to try and find them. In fact, that’s put Facebook afoul of state laws and using this technology is outright banned in Canada and Europe. These settings boil down to Facebook demanding forgiveness after refusing to ask for permission, and it may not sit well with users.