Germany is quite serious about privacy. The country has gone head-to-head with Google before, and now the German government is turning its eyes towards Facebook. Facebook has long been criticized for lax privacy settings and handing out private user information. Now, Facebook has added a facial recognition feature.
Facial recognition is not new, but it is something that the German government wants Facebook to put an end to. The government believes that facial recognition is a violation of European privacy laws, and the country is prepared to sue Facebook if the social networking giant doesn’t comply with Germany’s demands.
What Facial Recognition Does
If you’ve recently posted a picture to your Facebook account, you may have noticed that Facebook automatically “tags” your friends who are included in any given picture. This is done through facial recognition technology. Essentially, Facebook recognizes the shape and size of a someone’s face, and then matches that face with a friend who’s part of your friend list.
For some, this new feature is a time saver. For others, it’s a plain invasion of privacy to be tagged in someone else’s photo – especially if permission to do so was never gained. This feature can be turned off, but this is at the whim of the person who is posting a picture. It is also possible for those people who have been tagged to delete a tag, but this often causes friend rifts.
Why Germany Opposes This Technology
Germany privacy laws state that a company cannot list information about German citizens without the permission of individuals. Since Facebook doesn’t ask permission to tag faces when photos are posted, this is a direct violation of the European law. Other European countries have largely overlooked the new Facebook feature, but Germany is demanding that Facebook disable the feature when it comes to accounts located in Germany.
Previously, the German government went to war with Google over the company’s Street View feature. In order to provide street views of German homes and businesses, Google sent photographers to Germany to snap photos. When the German government got word of this happening, Google was made to offer citizens an “opt out” choice. Many citizens opted out, and Google no longer conducts Street Views within Germany.
The Facebook Response
Thus far, Facebook has not responded to Germany’s request. However, Germany issued a statement saying that the country was prepared to sue Facebook for 300,000 Euros. Facebook did issues a statement saying that the company would consider Germany’s demand, but Facebook execs feel that the social network has not broken any laws.
Even though 300,000 Euros is a small sum compared to the amount of money that Facebook rakes in regularly, one would assume that Facebook does not want the bad press. Since Facebook has made settlements with Germany before (regarding Facebook’s Friend Finder feature), it’s presumed that the social networking company will do the same this time around.
The social networking world is currently waiting to see whether or not Facebook will take a second look at facial recognition within Germany, or if the company intends to snub the German request altogether.