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A face in a billion: Facebook to include profile pix in facial recognition database

A face in a billion: Facebook to include profile pix in facial recognition database

September 1, 2013 - Facebook says it will expand its facial recognition database to include over 1 billion extra faces as it incorporates users’ profile pictures into its database, thereby increasing the scope of its existing, highly controversial technology.

The world’s largest social network made the announcement Thursday in an update to its data use policy. Facebook’s “Tag Suggest” feature already automatically recognizes “friend” faces in photo uploads to speed up the process of tagging friends, but the new adaptation will also use the facial recognition technology to identify its own users’ profile pictures.

“Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told Reuters, adding that the change would give users better control over their information.

Facebook’s existing technology identifies faces automatically by comparing them to previous tagged photographs.

Egan added that there would be an “opt out” feature, meaning that somebody’s photograph could be excluded from the facial recognition database.

The practice has already raised regulatory concerns in Europe, meaning Facebook users there will not be affected by the change – it is only for US users. Facebook was persuaded to disable its facial recognition technology across Europe earlier this year, after an investigation by privacy authorities in Germany and Ireland.

“Can I say that we will never use facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not,” Egan said. “If we decided to use it in different ways we will continue to provide people [with] transparency about that and we will continue to provide control.”

Critics said that there has also been little attempt in the new update to provide greater clarity as to policies.

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