Facebook may have privacy battle on two fronts

As EU starts probe into facial recognition, letter about to go to FTC

Facebook said it's working with European Union regulators to resolve criticism about its new facial recognition feature, but trouble may also be brewing for the social network here in the U.S.

On Wednesday, Facebook's move to enable facial recognition across its entire social networking site raised complaints from privacy advocates and some users over the feature's privacy implications.

The EU's data protection regulators were quick to jump on the issue, telling the Bloomberg news service they will launch an investigation into it. Bloomberg also reported that authorities in the U.K. and Ireland are looking into the matter.

However, Facebook said today it's already working with the EU to answer their questions and try to quell their privacy fears.

"We have heard the comments from some regulators about this product feature and we are providing them with additional information, which we are confident will satisfy any concerns they will have," a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email to Computerworld.

But Facebook may have to deal with this issue on more than one front.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said today that he is working on a letter of complaint that he plans to send to the Federal Trade Commission. He said the letter should be ready to go today or tomorrow.

"I think that's likely," Rotenberg said.

On Tuesday, Facebook said in a blog post that it has been working to make it easier for users to tag photos of their friends and family members. To do this, it has been quietly rolling out facial recognition technology to a test group across the world's biggest social network since late last year.

That means Facebook's system will be able to recognize the faces of its 500 million to 600 million users worldwide.< /p>

Facebook noted that in just a few weeks, its system will scan all photos posted to Facebook and will offer the names of the people who appear in the frame. All of Facebook's users are automatically added to the database. The facial recognition feature is automatically turned on. Users who don't want the service must manually opt out of it.

Facebook has been criticized over the past year on a few occasions over privacy issues.

Last fall, it was learned that some of Facebook's most popular applications, including such as FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FrontierVille, had been sending users' personal information to dozens of advertising and Internet monitoring companies.

In November, the company ran into more privacy complaints over the release of its new messaging system - Facebook Messages.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

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