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Facebook is making changes to the process for tagging friends in photos uploaded to the social network, the company announced on Tuesday.
Starting in a few weeks, the system will scan all images posted to Facebook and suggest the names of people who appear in the frame. Last year, Facebook began rolling the facial-recognition feature out to a test group.
The tool would still scan that person's face and figure out who it is, but it won't display that information. People can still manually tag friends.
The news sparked a small brushfire of media hostility. Bloggers characterized the tool -- and Facebook's decision not to ask before including everyone -- as unsettling while others urged readers to opt out.
Google recently decided not to release an application that would let someone snap a picture of a person's face using a smartphone in order to find out who the subject is, Eric Schmidt, the search giant's executive chairman and former CEO, said at a conference last week. Schmidt believed it to be the first time Google engineers had completed a project and decided to shutter it for privacy reasons, he said.
The work on Google's facial-recognition technology has not gone to waste. It's used to preserve privacy by blurring faces in Google's Street View mapping project, Hartmut Neven, the engineering director for image recognition, said in a recent interview. (1)
"We built that technology and we withheld it," Schmidt said of facial recognition at the All Things Digital D9 conference in California. "As far as I know, it's the only technology Google has built and, after looking at it, we decided to stop."
"I'm very concerned personally about the union of mobile tracking and face recognition," he explained, adding that the company feared that these capabilities could be used both for good and "in a very bad way." Schmidt described a scenario in which an "evil dictator" could use facial recognition to identify people in a crowd and use the technology "against" its citizens.
Bloomberg reports that European Union data-protection regulators say they will investigate the photo-tagging feature. The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which advises national data protection agencies that could then potentially establish punishments, will evaluate whether the feature breaks privacy rules, according to member Gerard Lommel's comments to Bloomberg.