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The Growing Implications of Facial Recognition Technology

The widespread use of facial recognition technology by Facebook, Google, and Apple is not without potential consequences. Privacy issues are a major concern, as the billions of photographs hosted by these providers can quickly become a library of personal information and a map of activities without the consent of their users. This is especially apparent with Facebook, who does not require an opt-in procedure for the use of facial recognition in its applications.

Consumer rights groups in Germany have already taken legal action against Facebook, as the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is charging that the company’s use of facial-recognition technology is patently illegal. Simultaneously, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations has ordered Facebook to cease and desist sharing user data with third-party applications without the consent of users. The outcome of the cases in Germany may shape the future of online privacy with regards to facial recognition technology.

The most pressing concern regarding facial recognition technology is based upon the potential for law enforcement agencies to use this index of biometric images without due process. In comments to the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center stated that “…the Commission should specifically prohibit the use of Facebook’s biometric image database by any law enforcement agency in the world, absent a showing of adequate legal process, consistent with international human rights norms.”

The FTC has failed to act on these suggestions as of now, and there are currently no regulations requiring private entities to provide individual users with notice that facial recognition data is being collected or how the data will be used once collected. This allows for biometric information to be sold or traded however the entity sees fit without obtaining the consent of the user.