Facebook’s Privacy and Policy Manager Rob Sherman has been summoned to the US senate about the social network behemoth’s use of facial recognition technology. Minnesota Senator Al Franken called the hearing to examine Facebook and get answers from its senior management about new features such as default tagging suggestions in photos and about why there is so little information about the technology it utilises on its site.
The potential marketing power of Facebook is almost limitless
Facebook has a monstrous amount of international influence, with a database containing the information of the best part of a billion people, including their likes, interests, photos and demographic data. If you couple that with its facial recognition technology and Facebook is capable of wielding an incredibly powerful resource that could easily be a cause for concern, if in the wrong hands of course.
In the defence of his employers, Sherman pointed out that people are able to opt out of tools such as Facebook’s tagging suggestions, and highlighted that Facebook as a concept is an ‘opt-in experience’. People sign up to Facebook in the first place because they want to share information about their lives with their friends. That’s the idea, anyway.
Facebook users must ‘opt-out’ of facial recognition
Senator Franken argued back against this by claiming that Google has similar facial recognition technology at its disposal, but in contrast to Facebook, it is deactivated by default on Google+, as in Google’s opinion, some information is so sensitive that users must give their consent before it is shared with the world.
Facebook currently only suggests tags for people you know, but it is capable of much more than that, given the size of its database. The other worry is why there is little information on Facebook about how it uses its facial recognition technology.
Senator Franken feels that we are not currently able to make an informed decision about facial recognition because Facebook doesn’t tell users that it is using the facial recognition. He admitted that there is a small amount of information about it on Facebook, but it is currently buried deep where not many people are likely to come across it, and that this information should be made abundantly clear to all Facebook users.
Putting a number to a person’s face
The information on Facebook relating to the subject concedes that facial recognition software is used by Facebook, with an algorithm which calculates a unique number based on a person’s facial features, such as the distance between the eyes, nose and ears. This number is based on all photos that you’ve been tagged in on Facebook.
When asked the rather troubling question about whether Facebook would ever sell its user face profiles to third parties, Sherman answered rather shiftily that because Facebook is a fast-evolving and ever-changing beast, it is impossible to gauge how it will operate just five years from now.
Let’s hope that Zuckerberg & Co. don’t become two-faced, as it were, and sell off our digital faces to the highest bidder in the future.