You may have heard about Facebook's facial recognition scandal. In fact, I wrote a rather popular article about the entire thing last June -- Why Facebook's Facial Recognition is Creepy.
Basically, here's the deal: Facebook is using rudimentary facial recognition technology to make suggestions for tagging. In other words, when you upload a photo of your friend Lisa, Facebook will use its not-so-impressive facial recognition skills to try to place who is in that photo. If it successfully recognizes Lisa, it will suggest that you tag the photo as "Lisa." If you confirm, and tag the photo as "Lisa," you are essentially telling Facebook that it guessed correctly, and Facebook can then tweak its algorithm to better recognize the next person.
And so on, and so on.
Now this may not sound super-creepy right off the bat. After all, Facebook is only using this technology to tag your friends in pictures -- it's not exactly handing over confidential biometric information to the government, right?
Wrong. Well, not totally wrong -- as far as I know, Facebook is not handing over biometric info to the government -- but wrong that it's harmless. Because, you see, Facebook's facial recognition may totally suck at the moment, but it's getting better every day. How? People are uploading billions of pictures and tagging their friends, or telling Facebook how to recognize different people from different angles, in different lighting scenarios, with different backgrounds and hairstyles and clothes on. Each time someone tags a photo of a person, Facebook can look back into its database full of pictures of that person (let's say, "Lisa") and compare how that person has changed in the newly-tagged photo.
Eventually, Facebook's facial recognition algorithm should be able to very accurately recognize people -- perhaps so accurately that it will only need one other photo of that person to be able to recognize them. And, well, that's a big problem.
I'll let you speculate on why that's a problem. Meanwhile, here's how to disable Facebook's facial recognition -- at least for the moment:
1. Log into your Facebook account and navigate to your Privacy Settings by clicking the arrow next to your name in the top right corner of the window, and then clicking "Privacy Settings" from the drop-down menu.
2. In the Privacy Settings menu, find "How Tags Work" and click "Edit Settings."
3. In the "How Tags Work" menu, click the setting that says "Tag Suggestions."
4. Change "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded" from "Friends" (the default setting) to "No one."
5. Save all of your privacy settings and get out of there -- you're done!
This article was last updated on January 29, 2012.