Facebook wants you to know about and control the photos of you that people upload—even if they don’t tag you. Much like the social media company wanting you to upload your nudes, the purpose of this update is to protect users’ privacy.
Facebook just launched a new facial recognition feature called Photo Review. What it does is alert you when your face shows up in newly posted photos. You then have the option of tagging yourself, doing nothing, asking the uploader to remove it, or reporting it to Facebook.
Face recognition usage
The company explains that the tool can be activated by a single on/off control:
“If your tag suggestions setting is currently set to ‘none,’ then your default face recognition setting will be set to ‘off’ and will remain that way until you decide to change it.”
The feature also works with profile photos. However, it won’t be available in Canada or the EU, where data laws restrict the use of facial recognition.
Photo Review should give people confidence to know that there aren’t images of them floating around Facebook they aren’t aware of. In theory, it could also help thwart impersonation. The technology could also be used to enhance ad targeting or content relevancy sorting, though Facebook currently has no plans to do so.
Face recognition will also enhance Facebook’s automatic alt-text tool by introducing to describe photos to those with vision loss. People who use screen readers will know who appears in photos in their News Feed, even if people aren’t tagged.
How good is Facebook’s face recognition?
Among the best in the world. With hundreds of billions of photos stored on the company’s servers, it provides ample data to train AI to distinguish different faces. The system even works if it doesn’t have a full view of your face; although it can’t recognize people in 90-degree profile.
Are you gaining or losing privacy?
Behind the message about protecting your identity, is a larger truth about Facebook’s ability to reach into your life. The announcement means that the company’s face recognition technology is now so powerful that it can recognize you in any photo, anywhere, even if it has no reason to expect to find it there. It’s easy enough for Facebook to find you if it’s only looking among photos of friends and family. However, it’s now searching its entire user base of over a billion people.
And that, in turn, means Facebook has a new powerful tool for mapping who knows who on the social network. For example, by looking at photos from an event Facebook could know everybody who was there and who they might be connected to. That kind of surveillance power can be a little creepy; connecting you to people wandering around behind you as you pose for a selfie.
If you don’t like the sound of it all, you may want to take advantage of a revamped privacy control. You can already opt out of Facebook’s face recognition photo tag suggestions. But the setting’s description delicately avoided using the term facial recognition. If you do opt-out of facial recognition, Facebook says it will delete the face template used to find you in photos.