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See Me: Facebook Facial Tags Sparks Privacy Row

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The facial recognition tool launched earlier this week to its 600 million plus account holders worldwide helps recognise faces when uploading and tagging images of their buddies.

 “When you or a friend upload new photos, we use face recognition software—similar to that found in many photo editing tools—to match your new photos to other photos you’re tagged in,” the social network said on its official company page on Tuesday, with a distinct lack of noise being otherwise made about the controversial new tool, called Tag Suggestions.

And the tool is default on all accounts although Facebook insists users can to opt out of the tool by disabling suggested tags in Privacy Settings, (but unless one reads the blog, this may not be widely known.)

“If for any reason you don’t want your name to be suggested, you will be able to disable suggested tags in your Privacy Settings. Just click “Customize Settings” and “Suggest photos of me to friends.”

But regulators in Europe including the UK and Ireland are far from happy, with the EU already launching an official investigation into the new feature, to determine if the new function violates its data protection legislation.

“Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’ s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default,” one EU official, Gerald Lommel said.

Regulators are also angry about the lack of notice given and will “clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this,” he added.

Facial recognition on the social network was already available to US users since last year, but European privacy laws are far stricter.

The move which lacked widespread notification by Facebook to its users (ironic in itself since this is the site that brought us status notifications!)  has also provoked the ire of security experts.

“Unfortunately, once again, Facebook seems to be sharing personal information by default,” wrote Graham Cluely, a senior technology consultant at Sophos who feel the face creep is a step too far for many.

And Mark Zuckerberg’s network has now come out apologising about the lack of notification it gave its millions of users:
admitting it “should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them,” in a statement yesterday.  

Even the ever present Google admitted it stopped short of introducing the face recognition technology into its smartphones.

“As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and after looking at it, we decided to stop,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt revealed last week.

“People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way.”