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back to article Facebook quietly switches on facial recognition tech by default

Facebook has rolled out its facial recognition technology to countries outside of the US, but has switched the feature on by default without telling its users first. UK-based security expert Graham Cluely noted earlier today that Facebook had slotted the tech into the social network. The Mark Zuckerberg-run company started …

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Devil

This...

...desperately needs to be poisoned. Wonder how the system would cope with a bunch of lulzmeisters taking pictures of random people in the street and tagging them as "Rick Astley", "Maggie Thatcher", etc?

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jai
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genius!!

that's such a brilliant idea, I'm going to start doing it on my way home tonight

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Little tip.

Create one or more (preferably more) false accounts to do it with. If your account has a lot of silly tags associated it might make it easier for FB to say "fine, that person's a joker, ignore their tags".

Now I don't have a Facebook account yet. However if a large enough campaign gets underway to poison their facial recognition, I may just create a few...

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Bronze badge

Letters, digits.

It is important to drive the point home, so Mark Zuckerberg needs to be tagged.

Will this achieve anything, though? The tags that matter will be the ones that link to the named person's Facebook profile. Or public page, I suppose - so, okay, ignore the preceeding sentence. :)

There is already plenty of rubbish seeding of this new feature, anyway. Some people seem to tag photos with a bunch of friends just to draw the photos to their attention.

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Happy

Oh you genius you

Give the man a medal, he's just invented Rickrolling 2.0!

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Stop

RTFA...

The option is to allow the automatic tagging of YOU in YOUR FRIENDS' pics. It's not like you can upload a photo of a crowd of people and it will search the WHOLE of Facebook to tag it with a bunch of people you don't already know. So, If you tagged a randomer as Rick Astley in a pic you uploaded, it wouldn't make any difference, because the feature only identifies faces tagged as YOU for YOUR FRIENDS in pics THEY upload.

Jeez! Why do people panic about this stuff before they take the time to understand what the feature ACTUALLY does...

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Trollface

You can still pollute, though

How does it know what YOU look like? By other photos you're tagged in. So, you can still pollute it, by making sure YOU are tagged as plenty of things that aren't YOU.

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Already doing just that

I don't spend a lot of time on Failbook; I use it primarily to promote my cartoon art, and that's all I post in my albums -- just cartoons, no photos... and, I'm already poisoning the well by tagging myself in all my cartoons.

Great idea, though, and easy to pull off.

That said, upon seeing this report, I went straight to my Failbook account and disabled the "feature" in question. Friggin' bastards.

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Let me guess ....

"The option is to allow the automatic tagging of YOU in YOUR FRIENDS' pics. It's not like you can upload a photo of a crowd of people and it will search the WHOLE of Facebook to tag it with a bunch of people you don't already know. So, If you tagged a randomer as Rick Astley in a pic you uploaded, it wouldn't make any difference, because the feature only identifies faces tagged as YOU for YOUR FRIENDS in pics THEY upload.

Jeez! Why do people panic about this stuff before they take the time to understand what the feature ACTUALLY does..."

I suspect not many people here are silly enough to actually have an account ... just a guess.

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Stop

Err - one second..

"The option is to allow the automatic tagging of YOU in YOUR FRIENDS' pics. It's not like you can upload a photo of a crowd of people and it will search the WHOLE of Facebook to tag it with a bunch of people you don't already know"

At least, that is what Farcebook tells you. Up to you to believe that, but I would like to point out that they also once said that your data was safe with them. You were obviously one of the few that actually *believed* that.

Now, I happen to have some fine swamp land in Florida..

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How does it know what you look like ?

It has many millions of good portraits provided by members for their home page. But, the more subversive have provided images of teddy bears, rabbits, Darth Vader and who knows what else, which will test the system.

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FAIL

It's called Feeping Creaturism.

As processing power increases this will start being used to "autotag" first the rest of your own pictures, then your friends and vice versa, and ultimately every image held on FB servers.

"Find me in other people's pictures" | "Find all my friends" | "Who do I know?" | "Find this person" and more. All the wonderful (and double edged) uses for this kind of technology.

And it won't be long before other image/social networking services start doing the same thing.

Even if settings exist to hide "your name" from different classes of other users. That privacy won't extend to law enforcement (whether or not you have any relevant connection with their subject of interest), and with the privacy settings being constantly reset there will be plenty of opportunities for third party services (such as those who make a business of digging up dirt for employers) to create thier own "name maps" which will forever be independent of any privacy settings which might or might not be in effect at any given time.

In fact with the help of a comprehensive library of highschool yearbooks your privacy settings could very well not mean a fooking thing EVER.

If an episode of you "cutting up or loose" exists in cyberspace, this technology will ultimately out you. And the camera truly will have the power to take your soul.

This is why I avoid these "enhanced" image services like the plague and am very careful about what I put on even the basic services like photobucket.

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Slight problem. Your "helpful" friends will vote you down.

The most basic of algorithms will include some sort of weighting system to maximise the probability that any given phiz is accurately tagged. Unless you make a huge effort to ensure multiple concurring false identifications your efforts will take you nowhere. And as the technology becomes more ubiquitous your chances of successful obfuscation become less and less remote.

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Hehehe...

Let's all get some facebook accounts and tag Zuckerberg as Rick Astley, if that's possible then.

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Anonymous Coward

Voting down issue.... Or let's screw around.

Ok. Here's what we do then.

Everyone interested here create a facebook account under the name Rick Astley. Grab some temp email address off someplace ie hushmail or w/e.

We all post up pictures of ourselves (Zuckerberg).

We all 'friend' each other up. Vote each other up.

Can you imagine? Rick Astley has 300000 friends.... Rick Astley, Rick Astley, Rick Astley...

We probably need to rally somewhere though...

Rally point? Hmmm... Oooh... I googled. There's an anonymous on facebook.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anonymous/128798377161188?sk=app_2373072738

Let's all meet there :P

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Big Brother

Scary

See title.

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Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth."

If you're that worried about it then you shouldn't be on Facebook, everybody should know by now that there is no such thing as privacy on that site not even as an option.

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Big Brother

needed an account to disable?

Can facebook users only tag photos of friends that already have facebook accounts?

If facebook users can tags anyone in a photo. Then facebook will learn who you are without you creating an account and can only disable it by creating an account!

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Happy

There's a better approach

Which I assume lots of people follow, myself included - which is to not only withhold some sensitive info (why the hell do I want Zuckercorp to know when my birthday is?) and outright lie about others (where I live, who I work for).

Who knew peeing in the data pool could be so much fun?

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Already on top of it

In fact, I supplied bogus info when I created my account. I used the nom de guerre I do my art under for my name, and totally bogus info for my age, gender and location. I didn't supply an info about where I went to school, or favorite movies or music, or any of that other crap they use to figure out which ads to shove at me.

Facebook thinks I'm a woman born on April 1, 1984 and living in Tripoli.

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Yeeeeah...

Back before I semi-closed or deactivated or whatever they'll allow you to do instead of deleting a facebook account, I had my birthday set something like 5 months off, just out of habit for not posting some information online. I forgot all about doing so, until a whole lot of my 'friends' that I hadn't talked to in weeks started emailing and calling to wish me a 5 month late happy birthday...

Anyway, facebook jumped the shark when they started allowing more than one picture. Yes, I'm alright with being alone in that opinion.

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Didn't think that through

Do you have any idea how angry the woman living in Tripoli, born April 1, 1984 is going to be when she finds out it's your fault?!

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You can't escape

This reminds me of the dumbed down world in the Ben Elton book, "Blind Faith". The Government cross-correlate data on every tiny thing, to home in on the 'dissidents'. The populace are kept in an uneducated Facebook existence. Most amusing was an observance that their computers held more data than there were atoms in the universe. Needless to say, there are plenty of folk who don't understand the logical impossibility of that one He has a government mole with a whole team to fabricate a bogus profile.

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Used this for the first time last week

And I have to say, despite the fact I am aware of and concerned about some of the privacy issues involved in this, it *is* very easy to use and convenient.

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WTF?

@AC Scary?

Why is it scary? You might as well have put "oooh!" in conspiratorial voice too.

Sure, people should be educated about the pros and cons of any feature, in plain, simple language that anyone can understand.

Certainly, changes to the service that may affect your privacy should be made highly visible (stick it on everyone's wall, perhaps.), and the settings very accessible.

After that, surely it's your own responsibility to manage your life, online or off.

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Black Helicopters

Why is it scary? Uhhh... three reasons

1. You don't tell Facebook to not tag you - you can only tell Facebook not to volunteer your name to others when they put up pics. Facebook still keeps a profile of your tagged face, with or without your consent.

2. Knowing this, imagine a situation (not evne a far-fetched one) where you go to an anti-war protest. Cops take pics, and demand Facebook identifies you (in the US without even a court order).

3. Most people will either be ignorant of the 'feature', or it's implications, until far too late.

Now you are welcome to cue the "ooooh" sound effect and "doo dee doo dee" music.

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g e
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FAIL

So presumably, based on that

I could take a photo of, say 50 people, and it'd identify them for me by suggesting tags?

Or do they have to be in my fiends (sic) list?

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Devil

It needs to start somewhere..

So you could take a picture of a random cloud and identify each and every one of them as you. Given the volume of images in the system it will have to allow for duplicates, so 10 pictures with 8 people each (faces still need to be recognisable) will pollute the pool sufficiently to make finding the real you in there hard work.

As a matter of fact, you can turn this into a crown project - do this with 10 people, rotate the pictures between you and it will become a yummie mess..

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Meh

Read the full blog entry

and you'll see that it will only suggest friends as tag candidates. There's nothing scary about it - it doesn't offer anything you can't already do. Nothing to see here. move along please.

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Thumb Down

There's a lot scary about it, actually

Firstly, they rolled it out on the sly as an opt-out service.

Secondly, they haven't made any statement about who will be given access to the information they used to build up their identification algorithm. Let's say, for instance, I don't like giving Facebook my photos, but friends of mine keep putting up photos of me and tagging me in them. How do I tell Facebook I don't want them to profile me based on those photos nor suggest my name for other photos of me?

It's a bugger of a thing, really.

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Gav
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Unhappy

Data collected by stealth

Clearly you have missed the whole point. The issue here is not that the truly arduous job of tagging you in photos has been made easier for your friends. The issue is that Facebook are now keeping a database of face recognition data on you. Compiled from data kindly, and unwittingly, supplied to them by you and your friends.

While this may be getting used today to help out tagging of photos, who knows how it will be used tomorrow with Facebook's next income generating idea? The day you are hit with personalised, Facebook generated, marketing when you walk into a shop gets that bit closer. Maybe you don't wish to share your interests and friends with the retailer? Tough luck. Facebook had you tagged the moment you walked through the door.

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Paris Hilton

It could have it uses though,

So what would happen if everybody upload a picture of a penis and tagged it as mark *uckerberg??????

Or upload a picture of a cat's bum and tag it as the RBS/Nat West Logo?????

Paris, errr.... emmm...... Oh figure it out for yourselves.

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@dodge Why is it scary? Uhhh... three reasons

Ok, reasonable comeback. However...

1. Facial recognition software exists. Repositories of photo's exist. Spooks don't need FaceBook to help them with that part. I'm not sure that's enough to make them the villian. Have you seen the number of CCTV cameras lately? You're being watched, but not by FaceBook.

2. Anti-war protests aren't illegal (not in the UK anyway) so why would I need anonymity? Other country's mileage may vary, natch.

3. Agree about ignorance, there are some right muppets out there. Hence my comment about making it very visible, understandable, and accessible.

4. Wish I'd thought of "doo dee doo dee".

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Black Helicopters

Facial recognition software exists

Well, actually, I'm not sure that it does in the most obvious sense - i.e. that it can identify a new photo of a person that's in its database with any very useful accuracy, unless the database is very small. And if it's unknown whether the person is in the database or not, it's even less likely to be accurate.

But face recognition must, I think, work something in the way that Bayesian spam filters do - adjusting the weighting it assigns to various metrics (distance between eyes, shape of ears, skin tone etc) as it is fed more examples.

But the spam filter only gets better when users hit the "spam" or "not spam" buttons. In other words, the input is only useful for learning if each item is tagged by a human being.

So your spook who is looking for a particular terrorist passing in front of a security camera needs to train the system with lots of different pictures tagged This Is Mr X, and lots of pictures tagged This Isn't Mr X. And he needs to do this for every wanted terrorist. Then, at best, the system can examine the people passing its camera and ping when it sees someone that it thinks look like Mr X. At this point, a human operator must look at the image and either confirm (hit spam) or refute (hit not spam). In other words, the system doesn't replace the need for human operators - it probably needs more people.

What the spook actually needs is a vast database of random face shots, each of which has already been tagged for him by a human volunteer. But where can you find millions of people ready to spend some time looking at pictures and tagging them for free?

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Anonymous Coward

@Octoberon

"Facial recognition software exists. Repositories of photo's exist. Spooks don't need FaceBook to help them with that part".

In part you're right. For example, anyone with a passport already has their biometrics on file. But that still doesn't excuse Facebook for making it opt-out by default instead of opt-in.

Also, it's not just about governements, it could be a potential/current employer who may take offence to a photo posted by a mate, who thought it would be funny to upload a photoshopped photo of you for a laugh.

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Gold badge

AFAIK it's actually illegal under UK data protection

I think to collect extra data (such as identifying your presence on images) needs your consent in the UK; but I'm not quite sure (come to think of it, I can't quite put my finger on what aspect they screw around with as they use the usual backdoor to all privacy laws - I cannot ask you for your data without consent, but there's nothing stopping me asking your friends about you - at which point you have bypassed Data Protection).

Worth asking the relevant privacy commissioners, and I don't think it'll go very positive for Farcebook, but what can they do against a US company that blatantly ignores any privacy law? Google is at least partially obliged to obey other laws as it has offices all over the place.

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Silver badge

Title? You can't handle a title!

"Have you seen the number of CCTV cameras lately?"

Most CCTV cameras are legally blind. Seriously, if classified according to human sight rules then most CCTV cameras would be collecting their disability payments, so to speak. Your 12MP Canon DSLR with a £2,000 lense however, is not.

"Anti-war protests aren't illegal (not in the UK anyway)"

Not yet, except for the middle of London unless you get some very deniable permission, and you only have to look at docu-films like "Taking Liberties" (play.com for a fiver last I looked) to see how sometimes even the police don't know the rules.

"Agree about ignorance, there are some right muppets out there. Hence my comment about making it very visible, understandable, and accessible."

Unless you don't fancy being tagged all over Facebook. In which case, you're kind of stuffed. Only option left if you can't go under the radar, is to make sure you utterly obliterate the radar with chaff. Hence my earlier suggestion of poisoning things. And why shouldn't we? It'll be fun!

"Wish I'd thought of "doo dee doo dee"."

I prefer "Dun dun DUNNNNNN" myself.

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FAIL

@ Octoberon

There are, however lots of countries where Facebook might operate (Syria being an excellent example in this case) where attending a demonstration and getting your picture taken and ID'd vs. Facebook will get you killed or thrown into prison.

There is also the risk that corrupt law enforcement might get carried away at a demonstration(not like that ever happens, right) and ID you vs. Facebook in an effort to intimidate or discredit you as a witness.

Or hey, maybe you witness a crime and the local organized crime gang matches your picture vs. Facebook so they can find and kill you before you can testify, or maybe even find you in a witness protection program if you enter one and then get on Facebook. Its not like getting crushed in a car compactor ever hurt anyone!!

Add in the usual stalkers, sexual predators who snap your pic because you float their boat, obsessive ex's, people who feel you wronged them and want revenge, etc.

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Megaphone

"sometimes even the police don't know the rules."

Oh, the police always know the rules, they just follow them selectively and rely on the punter they are harassing to be unaware that they are being harassed illegally.

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Meh

Despite trying hard to keep up...

...with all the new ways that Facebook keeps coming up with to invade my privacy, this one had slipped right by me. I appreciate the heads-up this article gave me so that I could switch it off, and I'll make a point to warn my less attentive friends about it.

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I'm getting to the point of emptying the account

I do sod all with it because I'm not really into self-publishing (I prefer my life a tad more private) - it was just there to stop others using my name. I think I'll empty it, as few pictures exist of me (deliberately) I wish them luck with that..

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Facepalm

It is already to late. They have your face scan in their Database

They don't need your picture or your privacy setting to turn off face scanning. The face scan profile is independent of the original picture. You can delete the picture but they don't have to delete the the scan from their database. They aren't legally obligated to delete the face scan profile and they don't have to tell you they have it.

It is to late.

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What is turned off though?

The article isn't clear on what actually happens if I 'turn it off' in privacy settings. I don't mind that my friends can automatically tag me, what bothers me is that Facebook are storing facial recognition data about me and linking it to other information about me. Is all that turned off or is it just the presentation of that data to my friends that is turned off?

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I came to post the same question

And who do they pass this database onto - I could think of a fair few government departments rubbing there hands at such a treasure trove..

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Facepalm

re: Despite trying hard to keep up...

yes, this one slipped by me. As did the checkbox that lets friends of friends see wall posts and photos in which they have tagged you, which is perhaps far more concerning and annoyed I only just discovered that one - when did that get added?

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FAIL

Well...if you're STUPID enough to use these lame social networking sites...

...and put your personal info AND pics on them...well then just too FU#&ING BAD if you get stalked...harassed...or whatever...because you're just asking for it.

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Silver badge

A little harsh, perhaps.

You know with a little redirection, that lovely trolling nature of yours could be turned to far more productive pursuits.

Hm. Fancy uploading pictures of dogturds and tagging them as Tony Blair?

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Who's posting pictures?

It doesn't matter what you do, your STUPID friends will still upload pictures of you, tag you in them, and share them with the world, along with some helpful comments about the easiest way to break into your basement and your home address. But I suppose you're still asking for it, right? Better if you don't have any friends...

I know it's trendy to blame the victim, but it's still weak.

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Trollface

AudiGuy, eh?

Based on your post, I would have figured ya for a BMW man...

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Maybe

...he's saving up for one.

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