Facebook photo tag tool to be suspended

As part of a review by Facebook to implement changes recommended by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in December last year, the social networking site will suspend the facial recognition tool that suggests when registered users could be tagged in uploaded photos. The tool is already unavailable to new users.

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The Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, did not request the tool's total removal, and said he was encouraged by the decision to switch it off for users in Europe by 15 October. "Facebook is sending a clear signal of its wish to demonstrate its commitment to best practice in data protection compliance", he commented.

The site's Director of Policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Richard Allan said: "The EU has looked at the issue of securing consent for this kind of technology and issued new guidance. Our intention is to reinstate the tag-suggest feature, but consistent with new guidelines. The service will need a different form of notice and consent." He added that the facial recognition tool was not part of the company's commercial activities and did not generate many user complaints.

Allan also said "When you think of the very wide ranging investigation the DPC carried out into Facebook, they looked at every aspect of our service, and our overall scorecard is very good. In the vast majority of areas the DPC looked into, they found we are behaving in a way that's not just compliant but a reasonable model for good practice."

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner had given Facebook six months to comply with its recommendations, which included more transparency about how data is used and individuals are targeted by advertisers and more user control over privacy settings. It now that there are still some areas requiring more work, and it has asked for another update in four weeks' time.

The Commission remains concerned about whether photos marked for deletion are actually being deleted within 40 days, as required under Irish Data Protection law. It also thinks that Facebook should contact those users with inactive and deactivated accounts after a period of time and see whether they want to come back. Many people return to site after long periods away, but according to the Commission, users with inactive accounts should be contacted within two years of their last log-in.

It would also like Facebook to do more to educate existing users about its privacy policies. "We would also like more information in relation to advertising – there is the potential for the use of terms that could be sensitive – such as ethnicity, trade union membership, political affiliation – to be used by advertisers to target others based on those words," said Deputy Commissioner Gary David.

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