#CyberFLASH: Facebook’s Use of Facial-Recognition Tool Draws Privacy Ire

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When you are identified in a picture on Facebook, biometric software remembers your face so it can be “tagged” in other photographs.

Facebook Inc. says this enhances the user experience. But privacy advocates say the company’s technology — which was shut off in Europe and Canada after concerns were raised — should only be used with explicit permission.

As commercial use of facial recognition technology grows to replace password log-ins, find people in photos and someday even customize displays for shoppers as they browse in stores, it’s raised privacy questions. That’s one reason the U.S. government is participating in a working group to develop rules for companies using facial recognition — even if those are voluntary.

“Face recognition data can be collected without a person’s knowledge,” said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy rights group. “It’s very rare for a fingerprint to be collected without your knowledge.”

Privacy groups such as Lynch’s last month cited the business community’s opposition to requiring prior consent as the reason they walked out on the government meetings. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which sponsored the talks, plans to continue the process Tuesday without most of the privacy advocates.

“The process is the strongest when all interested parties participate and are willing to engage on all issues,” said Juliana Gruenwald, an agency spokeswoman.

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