Feeds

Facebook facial recognition tech 'violates' German privacy law

Social network dismisses Hamburg's data protection claims

The Power of One Infographic

Facebook has rejected claims that its facial recognition technology violates German and EU privacy laws.

Hamburg's data protection authority (DPA) warned (PDF, in German) the dominant social network, which quietly rolled the software into European versions of Facebook earlier this year, that it could be fined if the company failed to delete the "biometric data" it harvests from the tech.

Dr Johannes Caspar, who is Hamburg's data protection commissioner, asked Facebook to "respond quickly" to the regulator's demands.

He said the DPA had "repeatedly" asked Facebook to shut down the facial recognition function.

Facebook's spokeswoman in Germany, Tina Kulow, gave The Register this statement:

"We will consider the points the Hamburg Data Protection Authority have made about the photo tag suggest feature but firmly reject any claim that we are not meeting our obligations under European Union data protection law," she said.

"We have also found that people like the convenience of our photo tag suggest feature which makes it easier and safer for them to manage their online identities."

The tech itself is switched on by default within the closed-off network, which means users have to update their privacy settings within the site to "opt out" of the function. The facial recognition software debuted in the US late last year when Facebook at least had the courtesy to pen a blog post about the feature.

But it failed to do the same thing when the software was folded into the website on this side of the Atlantic in June.

Instead it posted a short retrograde update here, only after Europeans began to protest against its unannounced arrival.

The likes of the UK's Information Commissioner said at the time that it was "looking into" the stealth bolt-on of the facial recognition tech into Facebook.

"The privacy issues that this new software might raise are obvious and users should be given as much information as possible to give them the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether they wish to use it," it told us in June.

"We are speaking to Facebook about the privacy implications of this technology," it added.

But, in contrast to Hamburg's DPA, the ICO won't be getting tough with Facebook.

"We have received few if any complaints about this issue so far, however if anyone has any concerns then they can make a complaint to us and we will look into their case further," a spokesman at the watchdog told El Reg earlier this week.

Germany's actions against Facebook, meanwhile, echo its earlier complaints about Google's data slurp via its Street View cars, which led to the world's biggest ad broker reversing its vehicles out of the country. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.