Facebook: New Rights and Responsibilities, and Changes to Facial Recognition

Facebook this week announced proposed changes to both its Data Use Policy (DUP) and its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR). Users have seven days to make their views known in the comments section of the Proposed Updates to our Governing Documents – and at the time of writing this, more than 1500 users had done so.

Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, makes it clear that the SRR changes are made “as part of a settlement in a court case relating to advertising.” The intention is to help users understand how the advertising works, including the use of the user’s profile photo, not to stop it. The key content is, “you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you.” It adds a statement that if the user is a legal minor, merely using Facebook confirms that the approval of a parent or guardian has been obtained. And it finishes with the understanding that “we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.”

By making it clear what it is doing, Facebook also makes it clear that sponsored stories – whether under this or some other title – will continue.

The proposed new DUP can be found here: Data Use Policy. It is dated “Date of Last Revision: September XX, 2013.” One of the key updates again relates to user profile photos. It states, “We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend's pictures to information we've put together from your profile pictures and the other photos in which you've been tagged.”

Reuters explains the significance: “Facebook Inc is considering incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members' profile photos into its growing facial recognition database, expanding the scope of the social network's controversial technology.” The purpose is to improve the performance of the Facebook ‘tag suggest’ feature. “Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said that adding members' public profile photos would give users better control over their personal information, by making it easier to identify posted photos in which they appear. ‘Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service,’ Egan said.”

The move is bound to be controversial given existing privacy concerns (‘tag suggest’ is not currently available in Europe following objections raised by European privacy regulators). Potential access to a database of 1 billion worldwide facial biometrics by US law enforcement and intelligence services, following Edward Snowden’s revelations, is also likely to cause concern.

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