Facebook faces new privacy investigation over facial recognition
A row between Facebook and German privacy watchdogs has reignited with the announcement of a renewed investigation into facial recognition technology.
The Photo Tag Suggest feature suggests who is featured in photographs posted to Facebook to encourage members to share them with friends.
German authorities objected to the way Facebook introduced the technology on an opt-out basis, automatically applying it to all users. Johannes Caspar, data commissioner for Hamburg, said it meant data had been collected and processed without consent.
The system means Facebook has created a database of biometric profiles of its members’ faces.
Facebook agreed to suspend the service in July while it discussed it with regulators, but Mr Caspar said the talks had hit a dead end and a formal investigation would be reopened. It could lead to a fine or possibly a court case that could force Facebook to make changes if it loses.
“We have met repeatedly with Facebook but have not been able to get their cooperation on this issue, which has grave implications for personal data,” Mr Caspar told the New York Times.
Facebook insists that it complies with data protection legislation.
“We believe that the photo tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with E.U. data protection laws,” it said.
The firm’s frequent privacy controversies have been particularly fraught in Germany, where historic sensitivities and differences between regional data commissioners complicate regulation of web services. Google has also fallen foul of German watchdogs over the interception of WiFi data by its Street View fleet.
Facebook highlighted its cooperation with privacy regulators in Ireland, where its European operations are based.
“During our continuous dialogue with our supervisory authority in Europe, the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, we agreed to develop a best practice solution to notify people on Facebook about Photo Tag Suggest.”
Irish officials audited Facebook privacy practices last year and found room for improvement in several areas, including around gaining consent for Photo Tag Suggest.
A second audit is underway with conclusions due out next month.