SAN FRANCISCO — Of all the information Facebook collects about you, nothing is more personal than your face.
With 2.2 billion users uploading hundreds of millions of photos a day, the giant social network has developed one of the single-largest databases of faces and — with so many images to train its facial recognition software — one of the most accurate.
The question of whether you should let Facebook save your face is gaining in urgency as it moves to expand its deployment of facial recognition, rolling it out in Europe, where it was scrapped in 2012 over privacy concerns and scanning and identifying more people in photos.
At the same time, the giant social network is attempting to quash efforts to restrict the use of facial recognitionin the U.S., from legislation to litigation. And consumer groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook’s widening use of the technology.
The biggest threat to Facebook’s collection of facial recognition data is a class-action lawsuit in California brought by three Illinois residents who are suing Facebook under a state law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act, one of only two in the nation to regulate commercial use of facial recognition.
This week, a California federal judge ruled the case could proceed, potentially exposing Facebook to billions of dollars in damages.
Facebook is reviewing Monday’s ruling, spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina said in an emailed statement. But the company believes that the kind of facial recognition it performs is not covered by the Illinois law.
A U.S. federal judge ruled on Monday that Facebook must face a class action lawsuit alleging that the social network unlawfully used a facial recognition process on photos without user permission.Newslook
“We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously,” she said.
Should people trust Facebook with one of their most sensitive data points which, unlike a credit-card number, can’t — or at least can’t easily — be changed?
Distrust over how Facebook treats its customers’ personal data has jumped after 87 million users had their data pilfered by Cambridge Analytica, the British political firm with ties to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
A survey taken after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony last week showed a sharp decline in public confidence. Some 27% respondents agreed with the statement, “Facebook is committed to protecting the privacy of my personal information,” down from 79% in 2017, according to think tank the Ponemon Institute.
Most forms of tracking target the technology you use. Cookies on your computer. Digital fingerprints your browser leaves behind. GPS on your smartphone. What makes this technology different: It tracks the most identifiable part of your body.
“You can delete cookies. You can change browsers. And you can leave your smartphone at home,” says facial recognition expert Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. “But you can’t delete your face, and you can’t leave it at home.”
Facebook’s facial recognition technology analyzes photos and videos to create a unique “template” to identify you. The technology is a shortcut that scans photos to suggest names of friends to tag.
The company says it has no plans to make people’s facial recognition data available to advertisers or outside developers. But the more Facebook can glean from users’ photos about their interests, activities and social circles, the more precisely it can target advertising.
Facebook says it has tight control over its database of people’s likenesses. Even if someone were to obtain a “template,” it does not function like other face recognition systems.
“When we provide our biometric information to Facebook, we don’t know where that information is going,” Electronic Frontier Foundation senior attorney Jennifer Lynch said. “Facebook says: ‘Trust us to keep it safe.’ But Facebook has shown time and time again that it makes the wrong choices when it comes to protecting users’ data.”
Facial recognition, sometimes called faceprinting, is used by major technology companies around the globe. Apple last year replaced its fingerprint reader with a camera that uses your face to unlock the iPhone.
Facebook expands photo identification
In December, Facebook expanded the scope of its technology with the announcement that it would let users know when someone posts a photo of them, even if they are not tagged in it. The technology informs you if someone uses a photo of you in their profile picture to help detect impersonations. It also makes it possible for the visually impaired to have screen readers tell them who’s tagged in friends’ photos.
What may seem harmless — allowing Facebook to create an impression of your face — can be more telling than some people think. And soon it could reveal even more, including the state of your health, privacy experts say. The technology is becoming so sophisticated that Facebook can recognize people in photos and videos even if their faces are obscured, picking up clues from posture and body shape.
“This technology is powerful in a way that our society isn’t really used to,” Bedoya says.
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