EU data-protection regulators believe Facebook needs some clarification on how user privacy works

Facebook is known for crossing the limits when it comes to user privacy. For instance, the social networking giant gave apps access to personal information like user phone numbers and addresses. 

More recently, Facebook is facing criticism for its facial recognition feature, which allows users to tag friends in uploaded Facebook photos quickly and easily by scanning faces in the pictures and suggesting names. 

This facial recognition feature was originally announced in December 2010, and would be initially introduced in the United States. But earlier this week, Facebook admitted that the feature had become available to users internationally without notifying them about it first. 

"We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them," said Facebook in an e-mail statement.

Now, Facebook is under scrutiny for its facial recognition feature in Europe. The European Union data-protection regulators will question Facebook regarding its actions, asking why the company felt it was appropriate to automatically activate this feature on users' profiles without their consent. 

"We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that's currently done more than 100 million times a day," said Facebook in an email statement. "Tag suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested."

Facebook also noted that the feature can be disabled, but its difficult for users to disable it if they don't even know they have the feature. Many worry that this new facial recognition feature could link personal information like email addresses to the photos within the database. 

"Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people's prior consent and it can't be activated by default," said Gerard Lommel, a Luxembourg member of the so-called Article 29 Data protection Working Party. He also noted that Facebook's actions could "bear a lot of risks for users" and that the EU will "clarify to Facebook that this can't happen like this."

Regulators in both the United Kingdom and Ireland will be investigating the new feature and will talk to Facebook about it. 

The facial recognition feature can be disabled by logging into Facebook, clicking on "Account" and choosing "Privacy Settings." Then, click "Customize Settings," and locate the "Things Others Share" section. There is a "Suggest Photos of Me to Friends" option; click "Edit Settings" and choose "Disabled," then click "OK."

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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