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EPIC pokes FTC over Facebook facial recognition techniques

Facial Recognition

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) is urging the FTC to investigate whether Facebook’s use of facial recognition technologies contradicts a consent order the firm signed in 2011.

EPIC is leading a coalition of consumer groups against the social media giant on the grounds that user the facial recognition software violates the users rights to privacy. While there is a lot of nuanced language from all sides, EPIC argues that Facebook has not sought the permission of the user when developing these technologies, therefore is breaching privacy rules and ethics.

“The scanning of facial images without express, affirmative consent is unlawful and must be enjoined,” the group has said.

Back in 2011, Facebook found itself in hot water over its privacy practices and whether it was living up to the promises made to consumers. EPIC’s complaints at the time were supported by an FTC investigation and the firm was forced to sign a declaration which stated it would take privacy more seriously.

The issue here is the invasiveness of facial recognition software. While other biometric authentication technologies require the consent of the user, as well as proactive engagement (you have to put your finger on the scanner for example), facial recognition can be effectively used without the knowledge or approval of the user. It opens up quite an argument when it comes to the proper and ethical use of the technology as there will be nefarious actors who will have reprehensible intentions. And we do not exclude governments from this last statement.

While EPIC will argue the use of this technology is a violation of the consent agreement which Facebook signed in 2011, the dreaded wiggle room is present again. The application of facial recognition and consequences of user privacy has not been discussed from a regulatory perspective in any meaningful depth yet. It is a grey area which the technology companies are excellent at exploiting, but too be fair, it is legal until rules are written explicitly forbidding the practise.

Consumer groups like EPIC do have a useful place in the world, but a lot of the time they seem to be kicking up a fuss over not much, simply providing friction to progress for an almost non-existent issue which no-one really cares about. That said with the current headlines, there is no shortage of drama for the groups to be pointing their fingers at.

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