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Facebook to remove facial recognition tool in Europe

24 Sep 2012

Facebook is to end the use of its face recognition tagging tool in Europe following objections from data and privacy regulators.

The move - which will see Facebook turn off the feature by deleting existing templates by 15 October - is based on recommendations made by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) last year. It said Facebook's "tag suggest" feature wasn't in line with European data privacy laws.

An audit completed by the agency in December 2011 recommended 45 changes to the social network's features to improve user privacy protections.

The DPC gave Facebook six months to comply with its recommendations.

At the time, Facebook agreed to be more transparent about its face recognition tool in relation to users' data, including how data is handled, increased user control over settings, and the ability for users to delete personal data.

Though the DPC didn't request that Facebook remove the tagging feature completely, DPC Commissioner Billy Hawkes has welcomed Facebook's decision to discontinue using it.

"I am particularly encouraged in relation to the approach [Facebook Ireland] has decided to adopt on the tag suggest/facial recognition feature by in fact agreeing to go beyond our initial recommendations, in light of developments since then, in order to achieve the best practice," Hawkes said.

If Facebook hadn't implemented the changes, it could have faced a fine of up to £80,000. That still stands if it doesn't comply with the DPC's recommendations in other areas.

A Facebook representative said the firm was continuing to work with the DPC to ensure it would meet its requirements.

"This audit is part of an ongoing process of oversight, and we are pleased that, as the DPC said, the latest announcement is confirmation that we are not only compliant with European data protection law. But we have gone beyond some of their initial recommendations and are fully committed to best practice in data protection compliance," the representative said.

However, the DPC said there are still some areas where more work is required, and it has asked for an update from Facebook in these areas in a month.

Earlier this month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg heralded mobile as the key to Facebook's future success during his first interview since the social network's poor stock market debut.

Zuckerberg said that the company wasted two years relying on HTML5 instead of focusing on mobile app options, admitting, "We burned two years not working on mobile."

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Lee Bell

Lee joined as a reporter on The INQUIRER in April 2012.

Prior to working at The INQUIRER, Lee was sponsored by the NCTJ to do a multimedia journalism course in London. After completing placements at local magazines and newspapers in both print and online he wrote for an online gaming news website, and it was here where his love for technology grew.

Lee's main coverage areas include processors, internet security, PCs, laptops and tablet news and reviews.

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