Facebook is now offering facial-recognition features to all of its users but says it will keep the capabilities turned off by default.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Facebook said facial recognition will be off for all new users — unless they opt to turn it on — as well as for existing users who do nothing in response to a forthcoming alert about the new settings. This means facial recognition won’t be used by default to recognise a user in photos or videos or to suggest their friends tag them in such content.
The company previously began offering some users a setting in late 2017 that allowed them to decide broadly whether or not facial recognition was used in their Facebook experience. With the announcement on Tuesday, Facebook is expanding this option to all of its users.
Facebook said those who don’t already have the feature will soon receive a notice in their news feeds about the change, along with an option to keep it off or turn it on.
Facebook relies on facial recognition to send users alerts when their face is detected in a photo posted by a friend on the site — whether or not the person is tagged, which could be useful if someone tries to use a photo of you as their profile photo. It also offered a feature called “tag suggestions” that used facial recognition to automatically suggest users tag specific friends in pictures uploaded to the site. The company said a visible setting for that feature will be discontinued.
The decision to change its settings comes amid increasing unease about facial recognition technology, which can be used at home, school or rock concerts to identify people. A police department, for instance, may use the technology on video or photo evidence in hopes of determining who committed a crime.
It’s increasingly showing up on apps and online, including social networks such as Facebook. Some areas such as San Francisco and Oakland, California, have banned their city departments, including local police, from using the technology, as part of a move to control government surveillance.
Facebook itself has faced legal scrutiny for its use of technology. Just weeks ago, a US appeals court in San Francisco rejected Facebook’s attempt to undo a lawsuit that alleged the social network unlawfully used facial recognition technology to gather millions of users’ biometric data. The class-action suit was filed by Facebook users in Illinois, one of the few states with a law that requires companies to get consent from customers before collecting biometric information.