Most users on Facebook are familiar with how the platform can find you in peoples’ photos and suggest that you be tagged. That’s done by utilizing face recognition, but a big concern with the technology is whether or not people are losing their ability to consent. Your face is personal, after all, and it shouldn’t be recorded or analyzed without it.
In December 2017, Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman published a blog post to address those concerns before introducing Facebook’s new on/off switch.
“When it comes to face recognition, control matters,” Sherman wrote.
A video on the page informed viewers that anyone could completely “opt out” of the facial recognition technology by adjusting their Facebook Account Settings.
Now, it seems that’s not entirely true. A study conducted by Consumer Reports found that out of 31 Facebook users in the United States, eight accounts — or 25 percent — lacked the Face Recognition setting.
The study may seem small, but it’s alarming for that setting to be missing for any number of accounts. Bobby Richter — who leads privacy and security testing for Consumer Reports — noted that with the study, “we can infer that many Facebook users may be affected.”
If users don’t have the setting, they can’t opt out of Facebook’s facial recognition. Effectively, the platform has removed their ability to consent — which is the same privacy concern that led to Facebook developing the feature in the first place.
Over the past few months, conversations around facial recognition and its harmful effects have picked up across the country. Privacy and civil rights advocates have pointed out that facial recognition by design puts communities at risk of continuous, mass surveillance. Last week, San Francisco even banned local government use of facial recognition technology.
“Since the company has one of the largest name-face databases in the world and the power to infer significant things about people whom it identifies, it’s especially important that it craft and execute appropriate policies for face recognition,” Evan Selinger, a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a senior fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum, told Consumer Reports,
The amount of Facebook users who are lacking the ability to shut off the platforms’ facial recognition is unclear, but it is clear that the company needs to get a hold of the problem.