Facebook has already dealt with plenty of negative attention over its facial recognition technology, both here in the US and across the Atlantic in Europe. Things are looking up for those who don't want to be included in Facebook's facial recognition program, however, as the company has decided to stop using the tool in Europe. The Irish Data Protection Commission announced that Facebook was pulling the plug on facial recognition today, after privacy officials in Europe began reviewing Facebook to make sure it was complying with privacy requests and recommendations made back in December.
It seems that Facebook wasn't required to shut down its facial recognition entirely, but the fact that it did signals that the company is ready to work with privacy officials to come to an agreement on the highly controversial tool. "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," DPC commissioner Billy Hawkes said in a statement today.
It gets better too, because the DPC says that its reviews has found that Facebook complied with most of the recommendations made by the Commission. Discussions about the facial recognition tool were constructive, and Facebook is getting better at being transparent about the way it uses the data it collects. Companies complying with government requests for more transparency isn't exactly a common thing, so we may as well relish it while we have the chance.
Issues arose when European privacy officials found out that not only was Facebook building a database of user images to aid this facial recognition tool, but it was doing so without the consent of its users. It isn't illegal for Facebook to build that database, but it is illegal for the company to do so in Europe without the consent of users. Talks with Facebook are still ongoing, but it seems that the company and data protection officials are making some real progress. Stay tuned.