Richi Jennings

Facebook photo privacy PANIC: Auto-tag apology and apologia

June 09, 2011 5:59 AM EDT
Mark Zuckerberg ( By Richi Jennings (@richi) - June 9, 2011.

Updated to note the threat of serving process via Facebook. Facebook has once again come under fire for invading users' privacy. Its facial recognition feature is now being widely rolled out, which is mightily disturbing the privacy wonks. However, perhaps all is not as it seems? In IT Blogwatch, bloggers discuss and decide for themselves.

Your chuckleheaded blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: What the heck is a "Planned Unplanned Outage"?..

Sharon Gaudin reports "privacy ire":
On Tuesday, Facebook announced ... that it was working to make it easier for uses to tag photos. ... It has been quietly rolling out facial recognition technology ... since late last year. ... The company will be able to identify you simply by your face. ... Its system will scan all photos ... and will offer up the names of the people who appear.
All of Facebook's users are automatically being added to the database. ... Users who don't want the service must go in and manually opt out of it. ... Facebook has found itself in the center of several [recent] firestorms related to privacy issues. ... Not everyone is concerned about Facebook's facial recognition feature, though.   M0RE

Kelly Fiveash squashes a rumor:
Despite widespread reporting ... that European watchdogs are probing [Facebook] over this issue, no such investigation ... is currently underway.
Facebook surprised many ... earlier this week when it quietly rolled out [the] technology ... by switching the feature on by default without telling its users first.
[This] is essentially Facebook's latest privacy gaffe.   M0RE

Graham Cluley broke the news on Tuesday:
Now might be a good time to check your Facebook privacy settings. ... The site has enabled the option in the last few days without giving users any notice. ... As your Facebook friends upload their albums, Facebook will ... determine if any of the pictures look like you. And ... rather creepily Facebook is now pushing your friends to go ahead and tag you.
Facebook does not give you any right to pre-approve tags. Instead the onus is on you to untag yourself. ... Once again, Facebook seems to be sharing ... information by default. Many people feel distinctly uncomfortable about [this].
Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth. ... Most Facebook users still don't know how to set their privacy options. ... It's even harder though to keep control when Facebook changes the settings without your knowledge.   M0RE

Ed Oswald blogs Facebook's cavalier apology:
Facebook is attempting to defend itself by explaining how the feature works. ... adding that if users didn't want to be suggested to friends, they could turn the feature off. ... yet again, Facebook is treating our data on the site however it wants to -- to hell with what we may want.
Facebook told us that it should have been more clear with users. ... It plans to make future announcements ... on its blog. Let me be the first to say (sarcastically) thanks, Facebook! Nice of you to think of us after the fact!
The company still hasn't learned that users are not so blindly dependent on Facebook that they'll gloss over issues like this.   M0RE
But Jason Kincaid wonders whether it's really the "fiasco" it's made out to be:
The technology itself isn’t particularly new. ... The complaints seem to be about issues that aren’t new ... humans are still very much involved in deciding who gets tagged.
While tagging is hugely popular, it’s also a pain. ... Which is where Facebook’s facial recognition comes in. ... We’re not talking about a sinister ... feature that will let your boss find incriminating photos of you. ... It just makes tagging less tedious.
If you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, you do not get to approve that tag ... you have to detag photos after the fact. ... This is how Facebook Photos have always worked. ... It isn’t a new issue, and it isn’t related to facial recognition at all.   M0RE
And Hugo Jobling has this apologia:
In this instance we're probably on Facebook's side; its facial recognition isn't actively tagging photos ... human approval is still required.
Keep a close eye on your Facebook privacy settings though.   M0RE
Meanwhile, Darlene Storm shakes her head:
Privacy by default seems to be a concept beyond Facebook's grasp. ... How many times has Facebook ... made changes and then apologized afterwards for ... automatically opting-in users? 
If Facebook doesn't creep you out ... would that change if you could be served legal papers over Facebook? ... [It's legal] in Canada, Australia, New Zealand [and] the United Kingdom. ... [It] may soon be considered acceptable in the United States.
Will Facebook facial recognition ... make it easier for collection agencies or attorneys to hunt you down? ... The EFF has previously warned us to be cautious because Big Brother wants to be your ... friend. Now you need to be careful of ... people looking to "friend" you to ... serve legal documents.   M0RE

And Finally...
What the heck is a "Planned Unplanned Outage"?
Bonus video: I feel... I feel... I feel happy of myself!

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Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcherRichi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. He's the creator and main author of Computerworld's IT Blogwatch -- for which he has won American Society of Business Publication Editors and Jesse H. Neal awards on behalf of Computerworld. He also writes The Long View for IDG Enterprise. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.