Facebook to test GDPR choices, including facial recognition, in EU

1 Mar 2018

Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

In preparing for GDPR, Facebook will let people choose to enable facial recognition, which has previously been unavailable in the EU.

Facebook has said it will roll out a limited test of some of the additional choices it will ask people to make as part of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which becomes law in May.

This will include a new facial recognition feature that has, until now, been unavailable in the EU on the social network.

‘You’ll hear from us if you’re in a photo and are part of the audience, even if you haven’t been tagged’

On 25 May 2018, all businesses and organisations across Europe that handle customer data will have to comply with the GDPR. The law will lead the standard for data protection globally and will include new rights for users to have better control over how their personal data is used.

For Facebook, which has run the gauntlet of numerous privacy cases and rulings – including a long-running, high-profile battle with privacy rights lawyer Max Schrems – GDPR will come with its own set of unique challenges.

And, because failure to comply could lead to fines of up to €20m, or 4pc of turnover, the social network is clearly getting its prep work done.

“Next week, we will roll out a limited test of some of the additional choices we’ll ask people to make as part of GDPR,” a spokesperson said.

“That means that some people will see information on Facebook about improved privacy controls, new features and more details on how our services work. While everyone on Facebook in the EU will eventually hear from us about this, we’re starting by asking only a small percentage of people so that we can be sure everything is working properly.”

Facial recognition on Facebook

The first change Facebook will test is the ability to choose whether or not to enable facial recognition, which has previously been unavailable in the EU.

The spokesperson said that using facial recognition is entirely optional – you can choose to leave it off, or switch it on at any time.

They added that if users choose to opt in, they will be able to know when someone else uploads a photo of them as their profile picture, as a way to prevent people from impersonating others on Facebook.

“You’ll hear from us if you’re in a photo and are part of the audience, even if you haven’t been tagged.

“You can choose whether to tag yourself, leave yourself untagged or reach out to the person who posted the photo if you have concerns about it.”

Facebook said it will also make it easier for people with visual impairments to use the network and will launch an automatic alt-text tool, which describes photos to people with vision loss.

“Now, with face recognition, visually impaired people who use screen readers will know who appears in photos in their news feed even if people aren’t tagged.”

Choose your allegiance

Another important change will be that Facebook will ask people who’ve previously chosen to share their political, religious and ‘interested in’ information on their profile if they want to continue to share these details.

“We will also ask them if they would like us to use any of this data to personalise content or show them ads. You can always choose to edit or delete this information.”

Facebook is also working on a new control centre to manage settings on Facebook.

“Beyond GDPR, we’re providing more transparency and new tools and controls to people on Facebook around the world,” the spokesperson concluded.

“Last month, we announced that we’re working on a new control centre that will put the core settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data.

“We also released our privacy principles and ran educational campaigns on and off Facebook to help people understand how to control their data – for example, how to delete content or even delete your account.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years