"When it comes to users' privacy, Facebook's policy should be: 'Ask for permission, don't assume it,' " Markey said Monday in a statement. "Rather than facial recognition, there should be a Facebook recognition that changing privacy settings without permission is wrong."
Facebook first began discussing its face recognition technology last December, but the full implications didn't become clear until last week, when the company rolled it out worldwide.
Since then European officials launched an investigation; in the U.S., the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other groups filed a complaint asking the FTC to order Facebook to suspend the service.
Much of the concern stems from Facebook's decision to launch the feature on an opt-out basis, meaning that the service will automatically suggest the names of users who appear in photos, unless they opt out. But that's not the only concern.
As EPIC points out, Facebook, unbeknownst to users, took photos that had been uploaded to the service and created a database of faces. What's more, users don't seem to have any easy way to opt out of having their faces included in Facebook's internal data-set.
Whether Facebook should respect users' wishes to exclude themselves from its index of faces is open to debate.
On one hand, people normally have no expectation of privacy in their appearance, given that they tend to be visible every day on the streets, where they can be photographed by strangers. On the other hand, for the most people aren't attaching names to those photos without the subjects' permission, much less creating a worldwide database that can be scoured by third parties like law enforcement officials, or advertisers.
Certainly, questions regarding the use of facial recognition technology are worthy of discussion. Nonetheless, it's unfortunate that Facebook has once again gone ahead with a new product that raises significant privacy concerns without first giving users a clear opportunity to understand the technology and decide whether or not they want it deployed on them.