Facebook facial recognition flap gains momentum

With Connecticut AG voicing concerns, will more states join the fracas?

Now that Connecticut Attorney General George has joined the brouhaha around Facebook's new facial recognition feature, it's possible the flap could get bigger.

Jepsen sent a letter to Facebook this week, expressing his concern that the social network's face recognition feature compromises consumer privacy. Jepsen has asked to sit down with Facebook executives and discuss the matter.

Complaints about the new feature, which was just widely announced last week, are gaining some momentum.

Connecticut's involvement comes on the heels of the European Union launching a probe into the new feature. The EU made its stand just one day after Facebook unveiled the feature. Authorities from the U.K. and Ireland reportedly also are considering their own investigations.

Earlier this week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and three other advocacy groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Facebook's use of facial recognition technology. The complaint urged the FTC to stop new feature in its tracks.

"I think this is all just building," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group. "This has huge privacy implications.... I think the size of the Facebook community and its ability to know everything about you has spooked people."

Kerravala added that he thinks Connecticut's involvement just may spur other states to throw their own weight into fracas.

"I'm not sure we fully understand the power of Facebook yet," he added. "Hey, they know where we are, who we're with, what we're doing, where we shop, how we travel. I mean, what don't they know about us?"

Facebook's facial recognition feature is set up to automatically work for every one of Facebook's estimated 500 million to 700 million users. If a user doesn't want it, they have to go into their privacy settings and turn the feature off.

But the social networking company said they're only trying to make things easier for their users. Instead of people having to type in the names of the people in the pictures they post on Facebook, the system will eventually be able to name them itself.

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.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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