Last month I blogged about how Facebook was under scrutiny from the Scandinavians with regards to the facial recognition feature that suggest photo tags to users who upload albums. Now it seems that the Germans are getting involved too.
It appears that as well as being somewhat ‘creepy’, the technology is also being accused of violating German privacy laws. The privacy commissioner in Hamburg has said that Facebook was collecting biometric information from its users and went on to order the data to be deleted. But that’s not all. It’s also within the power of the commissioner to impose a fine of up to €300,000.
Facebook have acknowledged the privacy concerns, but are rejecting the accusation that is has broken the law. A company spokesman said “People like the convenience of our photo tag suggest feature which makes it easier and safer for them to manage their online identities.”
The initial fears were that the facial recognition technology could be used to identify strangers, but in reality it only suggests photo tags for people who a user is actually friends with. But the fears of Hamburg’s information commissioner, Dr Johannes Caspar are more to the with the fact that the social network is building a private database of faces.
“The risks of such a collection of biometric data is immense,” said Dr Caspar. The man has a point. As my A-Level history teacher once said when we were discussing the 2001 Census we had taken a couple of years before: “Can you imagine if Hitler or Stalin had access to information about every individual’s religious beliefs?”. Granted, it’s not as if the atrocities committed under their regimes were on a small-scale, and nor am I comparing Facebook to a deranged genocidal dictator. But if masses of sensitive information and biometric data are collated and stored somewhere, but were then to fall into the wrong hands – and we’ve seen enough incidents of hacking and security breaches recently to know that this is possibility – then the potential results could be rather worrying.