Last week, Facebook finally launched its much-anticipated facial recognition software designed, at least they claim, to aid in tagging photos of you. Immediately, concerns over privacy were raised and justifiably so. In a world where virtually everything about you can be "Googled," it makes sense that people would want to exercise greater degrees of control over what information related to them is available online.
In this case, Facebook did what it does in launching this option -- it turned it on by default, meaning if you don't want people to scan your face in possible photo tagging, you have to go into their overly complex privacy area and turn that feature off.
This isn't the first time Facebook has run afoul of privacy groups. They have routinely changed terms of service and privacy features without substantial notification and they are often criticized for the amount and type of information they share with advertisers. But this particular change somehow seems more personal and so we give you some reasons why we think this whole facial recognition thing is a really bad idea.
5. Tagging already sucks Let's be honest here. The only time most of us want to be tagged is on a nice photo that is flattering. What normally happens, however, is a photo is tagged of one of us holding a half-empty bottle of whiskey, mouth open, in an ill-fitting bathing suit at a pool party. Thanks, mom!
The last thing all of us need is for someone who doesn't even know you but happened to catch you mid-fall into the fountain in the background at a wedding reception to use Facebook's facial recognition software to tag you for all of humanity, and the potential boss you just interviewed with that morning, to see.
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4. Do you really want Facebook to have MORE information about you? It's bad enough that they know where you work, where you went to school, your birthday, your family members, the movies you like and your favorite quote. Hell, most of us have dated people for weeks without knowing that much about them. Now, they get to know the tiny intricacies of your face. No thanks.
3. Big Brother is getting some help Sure, Facebook isn't sharing this information with the government that we know of, but after the Patriot Act was born, all sorts of private information became available to the federal government through warrantless searches and other data-mining operations. I'm not part of some paranoid, antigovernment militia, but even I can see the danger in allowing that much data "on the grid," just like Will Smith found out in Enemy of the State. God bless Gene Hackman. 2. They already share your information with advertisers Remember in Minority Report when Tom Cruise had to buy black-market eyeballs so he could avoid being detected by the scanners at the freaking Gap? Imagine having to buy a face to keep some embarrassing robot salesperson from reminding you of your jean size. Point is, we are already forced to endure increasingly pervasive forms of advertising -- I swear I saw the Geico gecko on my porch yesterday. The last thing we need is companies being able to recognize us from a photo.
1. This is a stalker's wet dream By far, the most troubling aspect of facial recognition is what it means for the average person in public. Imagine a guy sees a girl in a bar he thinks is hot. He snaps a photo of her with the camera on his phone, takes it home, drops it on a Facebook account and lets the social networking site search for her. If she is on Facebook, like millions and millions of others, there's a decent chance he'll find, at the very least, her name and possibly more. Most of us have nothing to fear from the first four reasons on this list, but this one could be a very real concern for anyone.
Update: If the face recognition software freaks you out as much as it does us, our sister paper SF Weekly has provided instructions on how to turn it off.