Facebook turns off facial recognition in Europe

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Facebook has shuttered its facial recognition feature in Europe, following last year's report from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

As well as turning off the feature, the company will delete the template images it stores of its EU users by 15 October. It has previously stored images of all its users to power the 'Tag Suggest' tool.

Facebook's European headquarters is in Ireland, prompting the investigation, which resulted in a series of recommendations late last year.

"I am particularly encouraged in relation to the approach it has decided to adopt on the tag suggest/facial recognition feature by in fact agreeing to go beyond our initial recommendations, in light of developments since then, in order to achieve best practice," says data commissioner Billy Hawkes.

"This feature has already been turned off for new users in the EU and templates for existing users will be deleted by 15 October, pending agreement with my Office on the most appropriate means of collecting user consent."

However, deputy commissioner Gary Davis, who led the both the audit and the review, says that there's more work to be done. " There were a number of items on which progress was not as fully forward as we had hoped and we have set a deadline of four weeks for these matters to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion," he says.   

And Max Schrems, of Europe V. Facebook, says he's disappointed that a fine hasn't been imposed on the company - and that the details of the investigation haven't been made public.

"“The breaches of the law are quite obvious. Unfortunately the Irish authority is currently denying access to all files, evidence and even the arguments by Facebook," he says.

"This might mean that we are made blind in this proceeding, which makes it hard to even enforce the most basic principles in the law."