Facial recognition has matured sufficiently that it is cropping up in real-world applications with increasing frequency, as recent Privacy News Online stories attest. There’s one well-known company that is more active in this area than most, not least because it has access to more facial images than any other. It even has the word “face” in its name, and yet the key role of facial recognition in Facebook’s plans is still under-appreciated.
Facebook’s roll-out of facial recognition features has been taking place gradually over the last few years. It was as long ago as 2010 that the company introduced “tag suggestions“:
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. We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos.
Later, Facebook expanded its “faceprints” database to include the profile pictures of people who were not tagged in any other photos. US Senator Al Franken was unhappy about this move, and in September 2013 wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to reconsider:
“Last July, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, I held a hearing on the privacy implications of facial recognition technology; Facebook was one of our witnesses. As I said then, I was concerned by Facebook’s creation of what is likely the world’s largest privately held facial recognition database – without its customers’ express consent. The proposed expansion of this program is highly troubling, especially since Facebook has refused to promise its customers that it won’t share this program or its data with third parties in the future.”
Facebook declined to change its