June 8, 2011

Facebook Still Clueless About Privacy Concerns

John Neumann for RedOrbit.com

Once again, Facebook appears to be out of step with its fans when it comes to privacy settings for individuals on the ever-popular social network, according to several media reports.

Facebook has switched on a new photo feature that automatically identifies people in photos.
The quietly rolled-out "Tag Suggestions" system uses facial recognition software to identify individuals as photos are uploaded and encourages their friends to tag them so that others can easily access the images. Originally available in the US only, in December, Facebook has now extended it to "most" of the dominant social network's 600 million users worldwide without notice.

"Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth," Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, wrote in a recent blog post.

Facebook said in an emailed statement to the Telegraph about the Sophos blog post, "we should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them."

The statement notes that the tagging suggestions are only made when new photos are added to Facebook and that only friends are suggested. Users can easily disable the feature in their privacy settings, the statement continued.

Executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington DC, Marc Rotenberg, blasted Facebook for turning on its facial tagging system by default. "I'm not sure that's the setting that people would want to choose. A better option would be to let people opt in," he told the Telegraph's Christopher Williams.

This is certainly not the first feature that Facebook has implemented and turned on by default. The location-based feature called Facebook Places, launched last year, broadcasts some information about users unless they explicitly tell it not to, for example.

A Facebook spokeswoman explained to The Register: "We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos: something that's currently done more than 100 million times a day."

"Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested. If for any reason someone doesn't want their name to be suggested, they can disable the feature in their Privacy Settings," she added.

She also dismissed accusations that the company's users' privacy was being eroded due to the "opt out" nature of the facial recognition function. She told The Register, "existing privacy settings" were always respected.

Facebook's privacy settings have been often criticized for its complexity and following yet another privacy controversy in May last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to make them simpler.


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