Facebook's face recognition 'optional' tool is widely rolling out to users, but it raises a lot of privacy concerns

However, not everything is great and rosy as Facebook claims as the company has not clarified about how long it will be an opt-in feature.

Back in December last year, Facebook announced that it is rolling out new “optional” tool that will use its facial recognition prowess to protect user privacy.

Representational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

This is the same technology that the company uses while suggesting people in your friends list, that you may want to tag. As previously reported, this new feature will notify users if anyone else is uploading their images to impersonate them or use their image without permission.

Facebook added that it was an optional feature at its announcement, but it is unclear on how long it will be ‘opt-in’.

The company added that it will be rolling out this feature in all markets excluding Canada and European Union. Now the optional tool is undergoing a wider roll-out as more and more users are seeing the prompt regarding this new feature.

A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 13, 2015. Facebook announced deals with nine publishers -- including NBC News, the New York Times and BuzzFeed -- to deliver select articles

Facebook. Image: Reuters

Facebook claims that this new feature will help reduce the misuse of images of users, in cases of cyber criminals and other malicious users impersonating the user.

Facebook will specifically notify the user if any other user has posted their image as their profile photo. It will also help users with visual impairments to know who is in the picture in addition to the existing ‘automatic alt-text’ feature that allows them to know what is in the picture.

However, not everything is great about this. Facebook is known to change its features regularly, and one does not know until when it will remain an opt-in feature. With just a few lines of code, Facebook could very well activate it for all users.

Considering Facebook has over 2 billion active users worldwide, that's a large online database with facial data for any social media platform out there. That's even larger than most countries. What is concerning is that usually Facebook features spread and carry forward to other platforms owned by Facebook such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Last but not the least, even though the technology will regard the privacy settings on the post set by the uploader, users can be inadvertently connected to strangers (uploaders). For instance, if you upload a photo which accidentally captures some random stranger in the frame, now while you may not know the person, that person by definition of Facebook's algorithms may get notified. Sometimes those strangers could send you unwanted friend requests too.

Despite uncommon groups, demographic zones or with the absence of mutual friends and activities, this may result in an unintended breach of privacy, on both, the end of the original uploader and the user who was notified about the potentially incorrect tag by the system.

It is unsure how things will impact as a wider-rollout of the feature has left a number of questions unanswered.

And Facebook isn't really the beacon of hope when it comes to playing fair with user data.





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