Facebook Removes Face Recognition Software In Europe

Facebook has voluntarily removed face recognition software from the social network in Europe following an investigation by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland.

The investigation was carried out by Irish privacy regulators as the country is the location of Facebook’s European headquarters. The office issued a number of recommendations after an audit last December and provided the social network with a number of recommendations to ensure that it complied with Irish and European data protection laws.

Billy Hawkes, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner said that he was satisfied with Facebook’s progress in implementing these recommendations and praised the company for withdrawing the contentious features.

Face Recognition Software

“I am satisfied that the Review has demonstrated a clear and ongoing commitment on the part of FB-I (Facebook Ireland) to comply with its data protection responsibilities by way of implementation or progress towards implementation of the recommendations in the Audit Report,” said Hawkes. “I am particularly encouraged in relation to the approach it has decided to adopt on the tag suggest/facial recognition feature by in fact agreeing to go beyond our initial recommendations, in light of developments since then, in order to achieve best practice.”

Facebook first rolled out its facial recognition features outside the US back in June 2011, but it did not inform its users that it was doing so, prompting criticism from regulators and consumer bodies. It then bought the developer behind the technology, Face.com, earlier this year and brought it in-house. The features will be withdrawn from 15 October with a view to implementing them later, subject to approval.

“This feature has already been turned off for new users in the EU and templates for existing users will be deleted by 15 October, pending agreement with my Office on the most appropriate means of collecting user consent,” explained Hawkes. ” By doing so it is sending a clear signal of its wish to demonstrate its commitment to best practice in data protection compliance.”

Facebook was praised for improving the level of transparency over how user data is handled as well as increased user control over settings. The report acknowledged that Facebook had implemented clear retention periods for the deletion of personal data and had made it easier for users to access their personal data.

However Gary Davis, the deputy commissioner who led both the audit and the review warned that there was still work to be done if Facebook is to meet its requirements.

“The discussions and negotiations that have taken place, while often robust on both sides, were at all times constructive with a collective goal of compliance with data protection requirements,” said Davis. “There were a number of items on which progress was not as fully forward as we had hoped and we have set a deadline of 4 weeks for these matters to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.”

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Steve McCaskill @MickeyCaskill

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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