Facebook asks users to opt-in to facial recognition

Facebook says the measure will help protect against identity fraud, but critics say the software infringes user privacy

Social networking site Facebook is asking European users if they would like to opt-in to accept the use of facial recognition software on its platform, six years after the function was first deactivated in Europe.

The networking giant has included the feature as part of a series of new privacy settings and requests for consent to data use, introduced ahead of the European-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws on personal data that are set to come into force this May 25.

The facial recognition software allows Facebook to scan photos and videos that are uploaded onto its site, and ascertain the identities of people appearing in the photo or video through their faces, even if they are not manually “tagged” or identified.

Users can then decide if they want to be identified in the photo or video.

Facebook says that this will actually work as a form of protection, as it can show you if photos of you are being published without your permission. It says the tool will also help visually-impaired people learn who is in a photo or video more easily.

In line with the new GDPR requirements, users are being asked to review and consent to (or actively “opt out”, if not) of a series of privacy settings and features controlling how their data is collected or used.

One such setting asks if the user would like to “activate facial recognition”, with the options including “accept and continue” and “find out more”, followed only then by an option to “turn off” the feature.

Facebook said: “We will use this data to protect you against identity fraud.”

Yet, the company has been criticised for intruding on users’ privacy, and for making the feature too difficult to turn off retrospectively. It is possible, but it takes no fewer than five clicks, deep into the user settings area of the site - hardly a one-click, easy process.

The new setting comes six years after facial recognition was deactivated on Facebook for European users, after campaigners and data protection groups called for more privacy and increased consent for data collection online.

As new GDPR laws come into force European-wide, internet users are being asked to re-consent to the use of their data online, for marketing, identification, or other services.

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