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Facebook's facial recognition violates German privacy laws, officials say

August 3, 2011 |  5:48 pm

Facebook facial recognition software

Facebook could reportedly face legal action and fines if it doesn't suspend or make major changes to its facial recognition software in Germany.

Facebook's facial recognition technology, which automatically enrolls all Facebook users, is used to identify and tag people in photos uploaded to the social network, which has more than 750 million users worldwide.

Users can opt out of the feature, so they can't be automatically tagged in photos that Facebook identifies them in, but doing so is a bit of a complicated process (lucky for you, we've explained the process step by step).

The facial recognition feature and Facebook's decision to not ask users about using the feature before enrolling them in it has sparked an outcry from privacy groups and politicians.

On Wednesday, German authorities were the latest to come out against the technology, saying that it violates privacy laws in that country and across Europe, according to a report by the Guardian in England.

"Hamburg's data protection official has written to Facebook to demand it stops running the facial recognition programme on German users and deletes any related data," the Guardian reported, adding that Facebook could face fines up to about $430,000 if the feature is not disabled in Germany.

If Facebook wants to keep the feature in place it must change it, German officials told the Guardian, saying that the world's most widely used social network "must ensure that only data from persons who have declared consent to the storage of their biometric facial profiles be stored in the database," the Guardian said.

"If the data were to get into the wrong hands, then someone with a picture taken on a mobile phone could use biometrics to compare the pictures and make an identification," Johannes Caspar, Germany's data protection supervisor told the Guardian.

Caspar said Facebook's system could be used by oppressive governments to spy on members of the opposition and that "the right to anonymity is in danger," the report said.

Facebook officials were unavailable to comment on the report Wednesday.

RELATED:

Facebook's new 'Expected: Child' tag sparks outcry

Facebook tells users how to opt out of facial recognition

Facebook under scrutiny for face-recognition feature from privacy group, lawmakers

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of Facebook's facial recognition software at work. Credit: Facebook

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