Facebook pushes ahead with controversial facial recognition feature in Europe


Facebook pushes ahead with controversial facial recognition feature in Europe

Just as Facebook faces a class action suit in California after gathering biometric data of users without explicit consent, it has reportedly started pushing European and Canadian users into giving its controversial facial recognition technology free reign to run rampant over their photos and videos.

Facebook uses facial recognition software to automatically match people in photos your friends upload with the other billions of images on Facebook’s servers in which you might appear.

Maybe that feels comfortable on a personal basis – perhaps you think it’s helpful if Facebook knows its Aunty Marge in that family photograph. But are you comfortable with a database containing billions of people’s faces, cross-linked with information about their likes and dislikes, their personal relationships and conversations?

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

It certainly puts a chill down my spine thinking how such information could be abused.

Users in the UK and other countries in the European Union were lucky enough to have the feature disabled some years ago, following a privacy outcry.

Now it appears, Facebook is attempting to push the feature onto European users again.

Face recognition fb

And this time they’ve added new features to facial recognition, hoping it will urge more users to opt-in to the technology when it is rolled out across all European users:

  • We’ll let you know when someone else uploads a photo of you as their profile picture. We’re doing this to prevent people from impersonating others on Facebook.
  • You’ll hear from us if you’re in a photo and are part of the audience, even if you haven’t been tagged. You can choose whether to tag yourself, leave yourself untagged, or reach out to the person who posted the photo if you have concerns about it.
  • Finally, we’ll make it easier for people with visual impairments to get more out of Facebook. Two years ago, we launched an automatic alt-text tool, which describes photos to people with vision loss. Now, with face recognition, visually impaired people who use screen readers will know who appears in photos in their News Feed even if people aren’t tagged.

In Britain, some users have already reported receiving notifications that they have been included in a trial roll-out of Facebook’s facial recognition features:

“We’re always working to make Facebook better, so we’re adding more ways to use face recognition besides just suggesting tags.”

“You control face recognition. This setting is on, but you can turn it off at any time, which applies to features we may add later.”

Umm. that sounds to me awfully like users included in the trial have been opted-in to facial recognition by Facebook without their consent…

The big question, of course, is whether you should allow Facebook to use its facial recognition software against you? No, of course not.

Here’s how you disable Facebook facial recognition via the mobile app:

  • Tap on the ‘hamburger’ button (☰) in your Facebook app.
  • Click on Settings > Privacy Shortcuts > More Settings > Face Recognition
  • Under “Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos” choose “No”.

Here’s how you disable Facebook facial recognition via the website:

  • While logged into Facebook, click here, and change “Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos” to “No”

Of course, you’ll only be able to change your facial recognition settings if Facebook has already rolled out the feature to your account.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

2 comments on “Facebook pushes ahead with controversial facial recognition feature in Europe”

  1. John Lewis

    I am totally opposed all facial recognition. I stopped using Facebook years ago and deleted my profile.

    I do not have a Facebook account. I do not give Facebook permission to hold ANY data on me.

    So how do they comply with GDPR? Although some of my friends and family use FB, they cannot give FB permission to hold data on me without my consent.

    I could only disable facial recognition by creating a FB account (which I have no intention of doing).

    Since FB Europe is registered in Ireland I will have to go through the Irish ICO to ensure that FB deletes all data that it holds on me.

  2. IanH

    Agreed. GDPR will be a useful wooden stake.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.