Facebook to reintroduce facial recognition in Europe on an opt-in basis

Company was forced to withdraw technology over five years ago amid privacy concerns

Facebook is to reintroduce facial recognition for its European users in the coming months, more than five years after it withdrew the technology amid pressure from privacy watchdogs and campaigners.

The company said the feature will be strictly on an opt-in basis for users. Those who choose to enable facial recognition will also get access to other features, such as being notified when someone uses your photo as their profile picture, or when someone else uploads a photograph of you to the platform, even if they don’t tag you. It will also link in with Facebook’s automatic alt-text tool for photographs, which describes photographs to people with visual impairments.

If you change your mind after enabling facial recognition, you can turn it off and all your data will be deleted, Facebook's deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman said.

There is no definite timescale for reintroducing the facial recognition feature to European users, but it’s on the cards.

“It’s been offered for quite some time in other parts of the world,” he said. “It’s had a positive response. We believe these features are very valuable.”

Privacy controls

The move comes as the company tests some new features and permissions it will offer to users when the new General Data Protection Regulations come into force in May.

Facial recognition is one; users will also be given information on improved privacy controls and given more details on how their features work.

Mr Sherman said the social network would ask people who’ve previously indicated their political, religious, and “interested in” information in their profile if they wanted to keep sharing it, and if so, did they want the data to be used to personalise content or show ads.

In recent weeks, Facebook has announced plans for its new control centre to bring the core privacy controls into a single place; shared its privacy principles for how it builds its products; and begun campaigns to help people understand what data they’re sharing on Facebook and with who.