Facebook Facial Recognition Gets Easier Opt-Out: Jepsen

Facebook caves to privacy pressures from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and others by running ads to let users opt out of the tag-suggestions facial-recognition feature.

Facebook July 26 said it has made it easier for subscribers to opt out of a controversial feature that uses facial-recognition technology to tag users in photos.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen is taking credit for the change, which includes deleting the facial-recognition data of users who opt out of the tag suggestions feature at the root of the issue.

The tag-suggestions feature automatically detects users in photos and links them with their names so that users don't have to manually tag friends.

The tool, announced last year, has been gradually rolled out to users all over the world, with the change reflected in users' privacy settings. Facebook immediately caught flak for not advising users the feature had been turned on.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jepsen complained that Facebook should have provided more notice and should instead make the feature opt-in.

Though Jepsen and the others did not score that victory, Facebook did respond to the criticism. The company is running "tag-suggest ads" linking users to their privacy settings and allowing them to opt out, Jepsen and Facebook confirmed.

The first round of ads ran earlier this month and yielded more than 400 million Facebook impressions across U.S. Facebook users' home pages.

The second round is running now on U.S. home pages for the next two weeks. Facebook told Jepsen that every Facebook user in the U.S. would see the new ad at least twice during this period.

More importantly, Jepsen noted that facial-recognition data would be deleted for users who click the ad link to their privacy settings and opt out of the tool.

Facebook, which bowed, if ever so slightly, to the political pressure, put a positive spin on the move.

"Our collaboration with Attorney General Jepsen means that people across the country using Facebook will be more aware of our personalized privacy settings, and how they can be used to benefit their experience on the site," Tim Sparapani, director of public policy at Facebook, told eWEEK in an emailed statement.

Facebook also added new language and links to a contact form and an automatic email response to direct users to report an imposter or fake profile.