Facebook biometrics feature is illegal, German regulator says

Facebook is under fire in Germany for its facial recognition functionality.

Facebook facial recognition software should be tossed out the window, a German regulator said this week.

Back in June, the European Union announced it would look into new software Facebook which uses face recognition software to help categorize and tag new photographs. Now Johannes Caspar, a data protection expert with the city of Hamburg, is threatening Facebook with legal action unless the company removes the functionality from the network.

"If the data were to get into the wrong hands, then someone with a picture taken on a mobile phone could use biometrics to compare the pictures and make an identification," Caspar said, according to the Guardian. "The right to anonymity is in danger." Facebook has remained mum.

But in a response to the previous European Union investigation, the company issued a short statement stressing that the facial recognition feature was optional. "We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that’s currently done more than 100 million times a day," Facebook reps said. "Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested."

This isn't the first time Facebook has been slammed for supposed security lapses, of course –– last year the site was taken to task by several groups, including a group of European data protection authorities. The question is whether all this privacy stuff matters to the average user. Facebook is everywhere these days: at the movies, on the bookshelves, on the cover of Time magazine.

The growth of the site has been extraordinary – by this summer, membership was at 700 million.

As Ben Mezrich, the author of "The Accidental Billionaires" – the basis for "The Social Network" – told the Monitor this summer, Facebook is "such a huge part of our lives, it's such a quickly growing company, that any critique falls flat. Unless [the Facebook staff] does something really phenomenally stupid, and I can't see for the life of me what that would be, a certain age group is going to keep using the site. That's the brilliance of Facebook."

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