August 15, 2012

Germany Reopening Facebook Facial Recognition Technology Investigation

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information will be looking into whether Facebook facial recognition technology breaks privacy policies.

The data protection watchdog said it will be reopening proceedings against the social network's technology on Wednesday.

The proceedings initially stopped pending negotiations between Facebook and the Irish Commissioner for Data Protection.

Facebook utilizes its facial recognition technology on the social network to help suggest who users should "tag" in photos.

The German data protection authority asked Mark Zuckerberg's empire on Thursday last week to find out what the outcomes of the negotiations with the Irish data protection commissioner were.

Facebook said it would refrain from creating facial profiles of new users for the moment, but the company still stores data of existing users that has been gathered with users' consent.

The social network has to decide if it wants to get the explicit consent of users, delete the data, or face a lawsuit. This order could be finished at the end of August, or at the beginning of September since the case against Facebook was already fully prepared back in June.

If Facebook doesn't comply with the data protection requirements, the German authority will file a lawsuit with the Administrative Court of Hamburg.

"We believe that the photo tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with EU data protection laws," a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email written to CIO.

Irish officials are concluding a second audit of the company's data protection practices. The Irish agency is continuing talks with Facebook and hopes to reach a settlement on obtaining a consent agreement and on the status of photo archives compiled from European users.

Facebook would not be facing a debt it couldn't afford in German courts. The social network may only face a fine up to $30,000 if it refused to destroy its biometric database and alter its practices.

However, a court order could be sought out to force Facebook to change its ways in Germany.

Germany originally started looking into Facebook practices with its facial recognition technology back in June 2011. It suspended the investigation after a year of failing to convince Facebook to change.

The new report, however, is compelling Facebook to “destroy its photographic database of faces collected in Germany and revise its Web site to obtain the explicit consent of users before it creates a digital file based on the biometric data of their faces."

Germany is having a tough time in converting Facebook to its ways because the social network's data collection takes place in its Ireland base, which is out of Germany's jurisdiction.