Facebook's facial recognition to be probed in Norway

The local data protection agency plans to start an investigation this fall

The Norwegian Data Protection Agency is planning to launch an investigation into Facebook's facial recognition feature this fall, a spokesman said on Monday.

Last year, Facebook added the ability to use facial recognition technology to help to tag images as default feature to users worldwide.

"[Facial recognition] is a technology that it is important to have critical view of, and see how it is actually used," said Ove Skåra, communications manager at the Norwegian Data Protection Agency or Datatilsynet.

The agency plans to start digging into how Facebook's feature works, and have a dialogue with Facebook about it.

This isn't the first time Norway's Data Protection Agency is taking a closer look at Facebook user privacy issues. In 2011, it worked with the other Nordic countries to gain more knowledge about the social networking site's privacy policy.

The agency will also have a discussion with Facebook about how it keeps track of instant messages between users, according to Skåra.

On both matters it is coordinating with the Article 29 Working Party -- an organization made up of a representative from the data protection authority of each E.U. member, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the E.U. Commission -- and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland, where Facebook's international arm is based.

Both organizations are currently looking at Facebook's privacy policy, according to Skåra.

The facial recognition feature isn't just getting attention by privacy watchdogs and advocates in Europe.

U.S. Senator Al Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's privacy subcommittee, at a July hearing called on Facebook to turn off the feature by default.

However, Facebook doesn't think that is a very good idea. Facebook is an opt-in experience, and people choose to be on Facebook because they want to share with each other, according to Rob Sherman, manager of privacy and public policy.

The importance Facebook places on facial recognition technology was shown in June when it purchased Face.com.

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Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
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