Facebook, Connecticut A.G. Settle Differences Over Facial Recognition

When Facebook launched its facial recognition feature last month, the company spurred complaints by people who said the tool didn't adequately protect users' privacy.

The feature makes it easier for users to tag their friends in photos. The tool recognizes users' faces and suggests their names when they appear in photos uploaded by their friends. People who upload photos can then automatically tag friends, rather than manually input their names.

Facebook said from the beginning that users could opt out of the feature, in which case the company would no longer automatically suggest their names when they appeared in photos. But the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other critics said that Facebook shouldn't have launched the feature on an opt-out basis.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said last month that allowing people to opt out after they had been tagged was troubling. "Unknowing consumers may have their photos tagged and matched using facial recognition software without their express consent, potentially exposing them to unwelcome attention," he said at the time.

Today, however, Jepsen seems to have backed down from that stance. He approvingly announced that Facebook made "significant changes" to its tool. In fact, however, the big change is that Facebook will run an ad campaign on its site about the feature; clicking on the links in the ads takes people to pages where they can opt out of automatic tagging.

A Facebook ad campaign about automatic tagging obviously won't harm users, but it's far different from making the feature opt-in, as Jepsen and others originally called for.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, indicated that he was unimpressed with Facebook's concession. "This puts the burden on the user," he said in an email to MediaPost. EPIC and other advocates last month filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to order Facebook to suspend the feature.

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