Germany Investigating Facebook Over Facial Recognition

Posted Aug 15, 2012

In Germany, Facebook is being investigated over the use of facial recognition.  Data officials in Germany believes that Facebook was illegally compiling a large photo database of users without their consent.  The data protection commissioner in Hamburg, Johannes Caspar, said that he has reopened the investigation which was suspended in June after repeated attempts to persuade Facebook to change their policies.

?We have no other option but to reopen our investigation,? said Caspar in an interview. ?We have met repeatedly with Facebook but have not been able to get their cooperation on this issue, which has grave implications for personal data.?

Facebook uses analytic software to create photographic archives of human faces based on the photos uploaded by Facebook users.  This feature has been especially controversial in Europe.  Rather than setting up an opt-in system for people to have their faces recognized, the company requires you to opt out.

Caspar is also known for leading Germany’s investigation into Google’s collection of personal Internet data taken from residential WiFi routers in the Street View case.

Caspar wants Facebook to destroy their photographic database of faces collected in Germany and revise the way that they consent users about creating a digital file based on the biometric data of their faces.

?We believe that the Photo Tag Suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with E.U. data protection laws,? said Facebook. ?During our continuous dialogue with our supervisory authority in Europe, the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, we agreed to develop a best practice solution to notify people on Facebook about Photo Tag Suggest.?

If Facebook does not find a way to settle with Caspar’s request, the social network company could face up to ?25,000 (about $30,000), which is a minuscule penalty considering the overall value of the company.  Facebook could delay paying this fine for years by appealing the regulator’s decision in the German courts.