Taking Back Control of your Photo? Facebook’s new Face Recognition Opt-in

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It was announced by Facebook in December last year, last week it has been activated: the new face recognition opt-in.

For a couple of years now, Facebook suggests names to tag people on our uploaded pictures, based on a comparison of our profile pictures with the faces on new uploaded photos or videos. Introducing a new opt-in to expand the facial recognition, the social media platform tries to attract users with some new features: with the new opt-in you get automatically notified when your face appears on any uploaded picture. This helps, so Facebook’s promise, to take back control over your own data and photos and to prevent strangers from the misuse of your photos and videos.

Apart from the control and security aspects, Facebook also promises to integrate and connect more people with this new facial recognition software. They argue that people with visual impairments have now the chance to know who is in the photo with them or with their friends.

But is it really a step forward? Even though the new feature sounds tempting especially in regard to the inclusion of handicapped people or the misuse of photos, the face recognition is a double-edged sword.

Although the new opt-in is not on by default, it still shows us what is now possible on Facebook regarding biometrics and face recognition technology. Even if you don’t activate the new feature Facebook has now the ability to know with whom you hang out, where you spend your free time and what you do when you are out and about away from the confined sphere of the family home – even though you yourself didn’t upload any information about it on Facebook.

So where have you been last Friday night, maybe out with friends in a bar? You’re at the bar ordering drinks, someone takes a picture of a group of people: Facebook could know now that you were there by using its facial recognition software. Is this a step towards taking back control?

One important thought is the issue of storing pictures and your biometric information and features. First of all, it is essential to ask where the information is stored and more decisively, who can use the information and for what? They know your face but you don’t know theirs, sounds like a dystopian world for me. Especially if we keep in mind that Facebook is a private company. If we don’t like the government to save so many personal details about us, like the discussion on the Aadhar Card has shown us, why do we allow a privately owned company to save our biometric details? At least the government needs a legal enactment to save and use our biometric data and is therefore bound by law and can be checked by the opposition or civil society. Who can retrace what Facebook is doing with the data? Taking back control – I don’t think so!

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