Facebook's New Privacy Policy: What You Need to Know

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Facebook’s latest nip/tuck to its privacy policy is mostly a lot of legal housecleaning, but there’s one big change every user should understand. When the policy takes effect Sept. 5, the social networking giant will grant itself the right to use facial recognition technology to analyze user profile photos, though the firm says users can opt out of the technology.

Facebook posted handy “red-line” versions of updates to its “Data Use Policy” and its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” You can scan through them and get the gist of the changes in a few minutes. The main impetus for the change is last week’s settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Facebook that objected to the firm’s use of consumer photos in advertisements. Terms of that settlement required Facebook to be more clear about its “sponsored stories” feature.

What They’re Not Saying

Facebook has now posted a clear example of how sponsored stories work, and also made the explanation of the feature much more clear in its privacy policy.

Specifically, this rather arcane language:

“You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.”

Now reads like this:

“You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.”

Two words you won’t read in the revised privacy policy, however, are “facial recognition.” Instead, the new policy says this:

“We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend’s pictures to information we’ve put together from your profile pictures and the other photos in which you’ve been tagged.”

Consumers tend to react to the phrase “facial recognition” the way they do “fingerprint database.” Europeans react even more strongly. In fact, last year Facebook had to turn off its facial recognition tools after complaints from privacy officials there.

Opting Out

For years, Facebook has suggested “tags” when users upload photos of friends, based on image recognition technology. Before this change, Facebook limited the pool of photos it analyzed. When the policy takes effect next week, profile photos will be included. That’s important because users are required to post a profile photo, and that photo must be public to everyone. Privacy-conscious users cannot limit profile photos to friends, for example. Users will be able to opt out of image recognition of profile photos, Facebook lawyer Ed Palmieri told the New York Times.

He also argued that image recognition actually has privacy-enhancing qualities. Users will suffer fewer surprises when friends post photos of them without their knowledge, as Facebook can now spot the photos and offer to warn the people who are in them, giving them the opportunity to “un-tag” themselves or demand the photos be removed.

That is true; but it’s also true that Facebook has granted itself another way to use customer data and placed another demand on users to figure out how to opt out of it.


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