After Facebook announced updates to its Data Use Policy this week, Reuters is reporting that the social network is considering applying its facial recognition technology to user profile pictures, adding over a billion public profile photos to the site’s facial recognition database.
According to Reuters, Facebook leverages the facial recognition technology for its “Tag Suggest” feature, automatically identifying users in newly uploaded photos by comparing faces in a picture to previous photos where the user was tagged. Facebook told Reuters that expanding its facial recognition technology to profile pictures will improve the site’s “Tag Suggest” feature, making it easier for users to locate photos in which they appear on the network.
“Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service,” said Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan. Reuters says Egan emphasizes that Facebook users can “opt out” of the Tag Suggest feature, disallowing their profile picture from being included in the site’s facial recognition database.
In light of the recent PRISM program, where US government agencies were charged with collecting user data from sites like Facebook and Google, facial recognition technology has become a controversial topic. Reuters writes that Facebook, along with other sites, insist, “They have never participated in any program giving the government direct access to their computer servers and that they only provide information in response to specific requests, after careful review and as required by law.”
While Egan told Reuters that Facebook does not use facial technology for anything beyond their “Tag Suggest” feature, she did clarify that may not always be the case.
“Can I say that we will never user facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not,” said Egan. She did say that should Facebook change its policy, the site would continue to be transparent about how it uses facial recognition technology.