- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Facebook announced Tuesday it will make it easier for users to turn off automatic facial recognition, after a government regulator had called the company’s practice “deceptive.”

New users will no longer automatically be signed up for “face tagging,” and some existing users will get a notice alerting them they can opt out of the practice, which saw Facebook suggest “tagging,” or attaching names, to faces of friends in photos posted online.

Srinivas Narayanan, who leads research on artificial intelligence for the company, said in a blog post that Facebook users will soon get notifications about the changes.

“The tag suggestions setting, which only controls whether we can suggest that your friends tag you in photos or videos using face recognition will no longer be available,” he wrote.

“We’ve continued to engage with privacy experts, academics, regulators and people on Facebook about how we use face recognition and the options you have to control it,” Mr. Narayanan added.

The announcement comes after the Federal Trade Commission this summer announced a $5 billion fine against Facebook for violating privacy standards it agreed to in a 2012 FTC settlement, and after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month allowed a class action to proceed over Facebook’s facial recognition technology. The lawsuit accused the company of allowing users’ identities to be collected and stored without consent or notice.

The 24-page opinion upheld a district court’s decision to certify a class action against the social media giant.

That decision was the first time a federal appeals court has delved into privacy issues related to facial recognition technology, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The development of a face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged in this case) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests,” Judge Sandra Ikuta, a Bush appointee, wrote in the opinion for the court.

Mr. Narayanan, in his statement Tuesday, said the company does not sell its technology or allow users’ facial recognition data to be shared with third parties.

A spokesperson from Facebook told The Hill the new facial recognition practice will comply with the FTC’s new settlement in July.

The FTC charged the company with at least eight privacy violations, alleging the social media giant made false claims about allowing consumers to control their privacy information.

Facebook agreed to the $5 billion penalty, which the FTC said was by far the largest privacy fine in history.

The company reported revenue of $55.8 billion in 2018.

At the time of the settlement, the FTC said it intended the fine to not only punish Facebook for its past practices, but to try to change the company’s culture to become more sensitive to privacy.

Facebook, in the settlement, agreed to provide clearer notice of how it uses facial recognition technology, and to “obtain affirmative express user consent.” The company also promised to do a better job with account security.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Washington Times the effort announced Tuesday “is the last phase of a long-planned deprecation of the Tag Suggestions setting.”

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