Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has joined the growing roster of public officials who are expressing concern about Facebook's new tagging technology, which automatically recognizes users' faces and suggests their names when they appear in photos uploaded by their friends.
Facebook, which first announced the new feature in December, said earlier this month it was rolling out automatic tagging worldwide. Users can configure their privacy settings to opt out of the feature, in which case Facebook will not automatically offer to tag photos of them. Uploaders can still insert tags manually; people who are tagged can later remove their names from photos.
Jepsen objects to Facebook's tool for automatic tagging on several grounds. Like other critics, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jepsen says that Facebook shouldn't have introduced a feature that can potentially affect users' privacy without first obtaining their permission. "The lack of an opt-in process for Facebook users is troubling because unknowing consumers may have their photos tagged and matched using facial recognition software without their express consent, potentially exposing them to unwelcome attention," he wrote.
In addition, Jepsen said, automatic tagging exacerbates the potential problems inherent in Facebook's old system, which always allowed people to tag their friends without first notifying them.
"By the time they receive notice, the tagged photo -- potentially with embarrassing or sensitive content -- may have been viewed by many other users," Jepsen wrote. "Any system that automatically prompts tagging without such prior notice or consent threatens to expose many more individuals to unwelcome and unwitting disclosures of their images."
Connecticut's top law enforcement official also criticized the social-networking service for creating a directory of faces that it could tie to other data. "Consumers must be made aware that the digital images of their faces are being coupled by Facebook technology to the personal information in their Facebook profiles."
He requested a meeting with company officials to discuss the matter.
Facebook said in a statement that it had been in contact with Jepsen and is "eager to provide clarification" and answer questions about the new feature. The company also says it has had "almost no user complaints" about the technology.
The company ignited a controversy earlier this month when it said automatic tagging had begun to roll out worldwide. In the last few weeks, the Electronic Information Privacy Center and other privacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, while Markey condemned the company for launching the feature on an opt-out basis.