As its name suggests, faces are important to Facebook. Tagging of friends and family leads to more connection and sharing, helping the billion-user-strong social network grow even further. But privacy advocates and others worry that Facebook's facial recognition technology and policies have gone too far.
Recent updates now allow the system to instantly recognize users already in the system when other people post their photos and ask the poster if he or she wants to tag that person's name.
'Astonishing' and Not in a Good Way
Not everyone is thrilled about the way the new technology works. Mark Zuckerberg's network had to turn off facial recognition features to satisfy European governments last September, even promising to delete images of European users it had saved.
Now, reports say the German government is up in arms over updated terms of service that include informing users about the facial tagging feature that was supposed to be disabled.
"We therefore have directly tried to contact officials from Facebook to find out if there is really a change in their data protection policy or if it is just a mistake of translation."
European Union regulators seem to take matters of public privacy and the Internet far more seriously than do American authorities.
"In theory, EU regulators think about privacy as a fundamental right, while in the U.S. privacy is often protected by laws against deception or harm," said Jules Polonetsky, director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which is funded by large technology companies in the U.S., including Facebook.
"But in practice, the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and state attorneys general are far more aggressive than EU regulators in bringing enforcement actions. And the U.S. class-action system has led to many big-dollar litigations, something unknown in Europe."
Facebook's press relations department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Technology analyst Charles King of Pund-IT told us corporations from the United States have long had difficulty navigating European markets.
"The attitudes toward privacy of both consumers and governments within the EU have been clear for years, much to the chagrin of IT vendors, including Microsoft, Google and Facebook," King said.
King said "the first possibility qualifies as little more than a dumb error, but the second and third would constitute deeply misguided courses of action."