Facebook’s automatic facial recognition: privacy (un)friendly?

A few months ago, Facebooks’s automatic facial recognition technology caused public outcry. When people uploaded pictures, individuals were automatically detected and tagged. Many protested and in the meantime, Facebook has adjusted its practices.

But, is the technique really that privacy unfriendly after all? The paradox in picture-tagging on Facebook, as many know, is that you only obtain (some sort of) ‘control’ when you’re tagged (when your identity is linked to the specific picture). This means there are two main strategies (besides asking the original poster to remove the picture) to limit the amount of eyeballs on your pictures. Either you ignore the posting and/or you ‘untag’ yourself. In this case your identity will not be linked to the picture but by people who know you and (accidentally) stumble upon them. In the second strategy, you tag yourself and consequently link your identity to the picture. By doing this, you can restrict access to a certain picture.

In the case of automatic tagging, the latter strategy becomes the default on Facebook. If tagged automatically (or at least easier and more often), you potentially have more power over your appearance on Facebook (if you tweaked your privacy settings to your particular taste). The technique makes people even aware of appearances in photos that they might not even have been aware of in the first place.

Put briefly, the technique certainly has important privacy implications, linking even more information to our online identity. At the other hand, it enables a more effective control over the information that is circulating about us too.

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