back to article Facebook image-tagging to be tested in Californian court

Facebook has lost the first round of a US class action lawsuit in Illinois, with a judge ruling it can proceed to trial. The first sueball in the action was lobbed last September, on the basis that the ZuckerBorg was breaking that state's 2008-era Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Plaintiffs Nimesh Patel, Adam Pezen …

  1. Ole Juul

    vote with your feet

    Plaintiffs Nimesh Patel, Adam Pezen and Carlo Licata complained that in photo-tagging, the company was collecting biometric identifiers without informing users of what was being stored or why, explain how long data would be retained and how to delete it, or get their permission.

    I truly hope you win the case. But ... er ... may I ask why you were using Facebook in the first place?

    1. Remy Redert

      Re: vote with your feet

      Don't worry, Facebook will still tag you in any photos someone else puts on Facebook, even if you don't have an account. Just like they'll use their tracking cookies on everyone.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        That is, on everyone who automatically accepts cookies and runs Javascript without control.

        Which is most people, admittedly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't vote with your feet

      > why you were using Facebook in the first place?

      Stopping facebook from doing X is the short term. Making sure nobody is allowed to legally get away with shady shit ever is the long term.

      I'm glad the era of unregulated advertising companies is coming to an end.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Don't vote with your feet

        I'm glad the era of unregulated advertising companies is coming to an end.

        Would that be "coming to an end" in the sense of "will probably be wiped out as the sun expands to encompass the earth's orbit"?

        All power to the plaintiffs here, but even if they win, it won't be a huge blow to Facebook.

  2. stizzleswick
    Pint

    Wow... a lucid judge!

    I want that same judge for my various grievances against Google etc....

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    How does this work?

    Presumably, there must be some user input to identify people in the images? Might it be possible to poison the database if enough people are identified only as famous people from the past - Gottfried Leibitz or Isaac Newton, perhaps?

    Or is the software doing something smarter and mining comments for references and cross-referencing against other named comments with the same faces, and working it out for itself?

    1. stizzleswick
      Black Helicopters

      Re: How does this work?

      Thanks to the madness included in modern "smart"phones and tablets with cameras, all images taken with them include in their metadata GPS data of where each image was made. Also, these are "personalised" devices which tend to have real-life user data available to malware like Bacefook and similar "apps." On some devices, you can turn that off. If your device uses Android, you're... er... starts with an "f"...

      1. Patrician

        Re: How does this work?

        It's very easy to stop Facebook app on a "customised" Android mobile - go into settings\apps and disable the app in question; job done.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: How does this work?

      I love the idea. But my estimate is that 99-point-and-then-some % of the Eloi FB users neither care nor know who Leibnitz was.

      1. Erewhon

        Re: How does this work?

        Leibnitz invented Calculus not Newton.

        Let's argue about something that matters....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How does this work?

          Reply Icon

          Re: How does this work?

          Leibnitz invented Calculus not Newton.

          I thought he invented chocolate biscuits!!!

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: How does this work?

            Leibnitz invented Calculus not Newton.

            No one claimed Leibnitz invented Newton. That was Charles Roser.

            Of course it's true that newtons can contribute to calculus, if you don't brush well.

            I'm sorry, what was your point again?

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: How does this work?

          "Let's argue about something that matters...."

          Are you saying Facebook & the like getting a kick where it hurts doesn't?

        3. Michael Habel Silver badge
          Coffee/keyboard

          Re: How does this work?

          And, here I thought Leibniz made tasty Cookies....

          Not Coffee so much as said Cookie Crumbs in my Keyboard.

        4. BebopWeBop Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: How does this work?

          I think that is arguable - a messy issue of formal and informal publication. What is certainly true is that Newtons approach to representation was inferior to Leibniz's.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: How does this work?

        According to the news of a plane passenger thought a terrorist because a passenger couldn't discern math from Arabic (and of course usually terrorists down planes writing magic formulas on a sheet...) , it's not just an FBI issue. That tells a lot about the US school system...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How does this work?

          "because a passenger couldn't discern math from Arabic"

          As I understood it he was Italian, it was the brackets and subscripts the concerned citizen moron walking danger to the public got frightened of.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: How does this work?

            The fact the "dangerous guy" was Italian increased the fear of the passenger next to him because of the "Mediterranean look", I guess, also like too many mathematicians he spots a dangerous beard, of course there are no shaved terrorists... hope that passenger doesn't use facebook to tag people faces, I can imagine he or she tagging people in photos "sister, dad, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist..."

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: How does this work?

              It's like the days when clever people were burned as witches. It's just amazing what the poor economist guy had to go through just on the say-so of an ignoramus. If the world is beheld to the ignorance of the masses then.... oh wait....

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: How does this work?

                "It's like the days when clever people were burned as witches"

                There is indeed historical precedent. Gerbert, Pope Silvester II, was a big fan of education, especially in mathematics, and is thought to have introduced the decimal system in Europe. He was duly accused of witchcraft, one allegation being that he could divide one number by another, which could only be done by invoking the devil.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Poisoning the database

      You could tag people with the wrong names, but AFAIK you can't just put any old thing in a tag. It has to be someone with a Facebook account, and I think it has to be a friend or at least have some way for Facebook to narrow down which "John Doe" you tagged to link it to a specific FB account.

      Anyway, the problem with poisoning the well is that if only a small percentage of people do it, the algorithm probably works as 'majority rules', so if I tag you under some other guy's name but 10 of your friends tag you with the correct name, Facebook still knows what you look like.

      As others said, you can opt out, but it doesn't seem reliable as I still get tagged once in a while despite having it set for prior approval. If you aren't on Facebook at all I don't see how someone can tag you, though they could name you, i.e. here I am with (tag)DougS and "John Doe". With a few posts that had x faces and x-1 tags that mentioned the name "John Doe" Facebook might be able to associate your face as belonging to someone named John Doe. Even if you could be tagged to associate your face with your name, unless/until you joined FB and friended several of the other people in such photos they still don't really know who you are. At least not unless you have an exceedingly rare first/last name pair. Otherwise you are just one of the thousands of John Does in the world.

  4. nematoad Silver badge
    FAIL

    "Leibnitz invented Calculus not Newton."

    Neil Barnes never said that.

    Note the phrase "famous people from the past" He just grouped the two together to make a point.

    Please read the post before commenting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ""Leibnitz invented Calculus not Newton."

      Neil Barnes never said that."

      I never said he did. I put forward a statement, and asked people to argue about it, in the vain attempt to get people to stop wittering on about farcebook and talk about something more interesting instead. I think it's called thread-jacking. If it's not called that, please argue about that instead.

  5. jtaylor

    As noted above, the nasty part of this image tagging is that it does not require participation or consent of the people who are tagged. Nor is there a mechanism to notify those people.[1]

    Thus, you can be at a party and people take photos. Some of them post to Facebook and tag you (put a name to your face) in it. Facebook has time, location, social context, and your face.

    Facebook also uses facial recognition software to identify people in photos.[2]

    [1] If you create a Facebook account (and agree to all their T&C), you can be notified when someone tags you in a photo. You can also opt out of being tagged. I'm not clear whether this actually removes your data from Facebook's facial recognition database, or just from being named in posts. I opted out and am still occasionally tagged in Facebook photos.

    [2] https://www.facebook.com/help/122175507864081/

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      And presumably if you are *not* a facebook user, but have merely been identified by a third party, facebook will do the honourable thing and seek your permission before including you in the database.

      So we can sleep safely, untracked and anonymous.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Just, if you don't have an account (which is a form of tracking itself), you can't "opt-out". It's just like the Whatsapp phonebook data slurping, it does access and store numbers of other people without their consent.

      It's time to assert that data slurping businessessocial networks and the like are forbidden to collect and store data about people who didn't approve it explicitly, with appropriate fines for non compliance.

    3. VinceH Silver badge

      "As noted above, the nasty part of this image tagging is that it does not require participation or consent of the people who are tagged. Nor is there a mechanism to notify those people.[1]"

      AIUI (and IIRC from when I actively used the site and even had 'friends'*), Facebook's logic is that "tagging" is when the name applied to a face in a photograph is linked to a Facebook account - and it's that which Facebook's opt out setting applies to.

      However, it's still possible to apply a name to someone in a photo; there's no opting out of that because it's not linked to an account. So if your name is a common one, such as John Smith, being named isn't going to matter a huge amount - but if your name is less common, such as Thelonius Davenport, then even being named in a photo is a bit off.

      "I'm not clear whether this actually removes your data from Facebook's facial recognition database"

      Here's a more interesting question: Back when I actually used the site, with the notification option came the ability to disapprove a tag, which degraded it from being a linked tag to just a name. In that scenario, was the link still present for photo recognition purposes?

      * That original account was deleted. These days, I have another account (set up as a test) but haven't added anyone as friends, and basically don't bother logging in. And Facebook's cookies don't persist beyond the browsing session on my systems.

  6. TeeCee Gold badge
    Happy

    ....something the judge described as “unpersuasive”.

    I reckon that's legalese for "utter bullshit".

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      'I reckon that's legalese for "utter bullshit".'

      Or "Do you really expect me to believe that?".

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Face swap

    That's why I only post face swap pictures on Facebook.

  8. Ru'

    Can we try and get everyone to tag every person as Boaty McBoatface?

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Unfortunately, you need to use random names for this to work. It's too easy to just filter out Boaty McBoatface.

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Then don't use Boaty McBoatface...

        Use Mr. Z's own name instead. Let's see how well their facial AI can handle having it's master suddenly being claimed to be everywhere.

        "Oh look! Mister Z was in Egypt, Burma, France, Switzerland, Mexico, & three hundred sixty-seven million photos claiming he was on the moon. What the HELL do we do now?"

        *Cackle*

  9. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    I still don't like Facebook's facial recognition "upgrade"

    Besides being creepy, I still worry that some abusive ex is going to find their ex-paramour, or even that somebody in a witness protection program is going to be recognized because they got photographed and tagged while attending a backyard barbecue in their new city.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: I still don't like Facebook's facial recognition "upgrade"

      These sorts of concerns were raised decades ago (Bledsoe's first automated facial-recognition system was developed in the 1960s). But while they should be obvious to anyone capable of a bit of critical thinking, and have been developed extensively in security research, the Facebergs and other techno-utopians continue to blithely deploy commoditized FR technology. That sort thinks technology is inherently good, particularly if it helps transfer more money to them.

  10. Paul Cooper

    Face tagging unreliable

    My experience of the automated tagging is that it's unreliable, anyway! My wife is usually automatically tagged as one of her sisters. OK, they're obviously similar in looks, being sisters, but not THAT similar - and her sister is 12 years younger, at least!

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Face tagging unreliable

      Use this to get points for telling your wife she that she looks 12 years younger than her age!! If you've been married fewer than 12 years, "you look just as great is you did on our wedding day" is even better!

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Jurisdiction issue?

    "The Social NetworkTM was asking the Illinois District Court to flick the case on the grounds that “Tag Suggestions” – the photo-tagging feature – wasn't covered by BIPA. That's because BIPA doesn't apply in its jurisdiction of choice, California."

    So, how come Facebook can specify in their T&Cs that you can only sue them in California but they can sue IP cases in patent plaintiff friendly Delaware or East Texas? Surely Facebook should make their IP complaints to Californian courts? I also seem to recall comments elsewhere on this august publication that a "national" US company can sue/be sued anywhere in the US. How come the T&Cs can override what looks like "the law"?

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