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Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) grilled a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) privacy executive about the social network’s facial-recognition technology and asked the company to be more direct and transparent about explaining the feature to users.
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Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, said the social network had hidden the page that explicitly says it is using facial-recognition technology behind six clicks. “I’m worried about how Facebook handles the choices that it does give its users about this technology,” he said. Users have to opt out of the facial-recognition option that assumes acceptance as a default.
Facebook’s manager of privacy and public policy, Rob Sherman, defended the company’s stance on setting tag suggestions as a default feature. “We think that’s the appropriate choice because Facebook itself is an opt-in experience,” Sherman said. “People choose to be on Facebook because they want to share with one another. We’re not actually exposing any additional information as part of this process.”
Facebook uses the technology to scan and immediately identify faces when a user uploads a photograph, and suggests tagging the user’s friends in the picture. The company got a boost for the technology last month when it acquired the Israel-based firm Face.com, which makes the software.
Franken suggested that Congress consider legislation that could clarify the appropriate uses of such identification software both for commercial purposes and by law enforcement authorities. Existing laws are “almost totally unprepared” to deal with such technology, he said.
Representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission were at the hearing to offer their perspective on facial-recognition applications. Maneesha Mithal, associate director at FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, said the agency had been evaluating these applications in its ongoing review of the privacy practices of Internet companies.
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