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Germany could act against Facebook on facial recognition

Updated Hamburg data protection authority is readying legal action
Fri Nov 11 2011, 12:26

PEOPLE DATABASE Facebook has won the attention of German data protection watchdogs, who are preparing legal action against it.

This is not the first time that Germany and Facebook have tangled, and at issue now is the social network's use of facial recognition technology and the way that it recognises people and suggests them for tagging in other member's photo albums without telling them that they are the subjects of its investigations.

In a statement the Hamburg data protection authority said that Facebook has not complied with demands made ​​by the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information that would bring its automatic face recognition function in line with European data protection regulations. It warned that steps preliminary to legal action are "now being prepared."

"Lawful use of face recognition software by Facebook requires free and informed consent. Facebook is obviously not prepared to take this step. Facebook continues to be in breach of European data protection law and [German law]. This breach must now be remedied, in order to ensure that new face recognition technologies are [observe the law] in [the] future," said Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner in a statement.

Although Facebook has changed its settings, Caspar said that this would only apply to new users and said that Facebook should let people change their settings retrospectively.

"This must be stopped now," he said. "To ensure in future that the new technology of facial recognition is used in a manner which respects the right of informational self-determination of the user, we will commit ourselves to the available legal instruments. The imposition of a fine as well as the adoption of a disposal order [is suitable]."

Facebook has contacted us with a comment in which it said that as far as it is concerned it has done enough to keep everyone, Hamburg data protections officers included.

"We believe that any legal action is completely unnecessary. Tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with EU data protection laws. On top of that we have given comprehensive notice and education to our users about tag suggest and we provide very simple tools for people to opt out if they do not want to use this feature," it said.

"We have considered carefully different options for making people even more aware of our privacy policies and are disappointed that the Hamburg DPA has not accepted these." µ



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