Facebook Facial Recognition – A picture is worth a thousand words

Facebook recently launched a facial recognition feature that allows you and others to “tag” photos with your name. As has been the norm for Facebook, this “feature” is turned on by default and users must take their own initiative to limit, or turn it off. The implications are wide-ranging, so if you or anyone in your family has a Facebook account, you should be sure to revisit your security settings as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. We give you instructions on how to disable this component later in this post.

Is it really a problem?

Many bloggers and reporters don’t believe that facial recognition is an issue worth worrying about. I’d rather err on the side of caution and have turned the feature off in my Facebook account. Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt described the increasing accuracy of the service as “very concerning” at Google’s Big Tent conference in June of this year. One of my litmus tests on privacy is: If Google (not known for believing anything should be private on the Internet) is indicating any level of concern, we all should be very concerned.

This issue is like an iceberg … the tip doesn’t look too bad but what lies beneath is very troublesome

The “tip” is facial recognition. There are benefits to having your photos be another way of identifying you from all the other people in the world that have your same name and a Facebook account, but there are also risks in so doing. It’s your choice up to a point, but the main issue is having others “tag” you regardless of your Facebook settings. You can control the “tip” by changing your Facebook security settings to make sure that the photos you upload to your Facebook account are not tagged with your name.

The iceberg issue beneath is someone else posting a picture of you and then tagging that picture with your name and a link to your profile. Anyone with a Facebook account can tag a photo they have uploaded with the name of any friend or friend’s public page, regardless of whether you are Facebook friends, friends of a friend, or have ever been associated with them in the past.

Depending upon your historical behavior, you have already faced risks of inappropriate photos showing up on friends’ accounts, but now, that risk is compounded by one or more of those photos being “positively” identified as you. Those photos are outside of your control. As the number of “tags” of you grows, the more accurate the identification becomes and the more likely an untagged photo outside your control will show up with your name as a suggestion of the name associated with that photo.

As with all things related to personal privacy, it is your decision if you want to disable this feature on your Facebook account, or that of your children. At the minimum, you might want to make sure your Facebook friends are also aware so they can decide what to do for themselves.

Even though you may decide to change your Facebook settings so “Only Me” can see photos and videos where you are tagged, some tests indicate that they still show up on friend’s pages. I’d recommend you run a test with one of your close ‘real-world’ friends to be sure. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Steps to Protecting Yourself

It’s not just one step unfortunately. It takes a number of steps, but here’s how to disable tagging in your Facebook account.

  1. Login to your Facebook account
  2. At the top right of your Facebook you will see the “Account” tab
  3. Click on the tab to see the drop-down menu
  4. Click on “Privacy Settings” … It’s the third item on the list
  5. In the “Sharing on Facebook” section, click on “Customize”
  6. Near the bottom of that page is “Customize Settings”. Before clicking on it, uncheck the “Let friends of people tagged in my photos and posts see them” if you have not done so before. (This makes you a good netizen by not increasing the likeliness of facial recognition for your friends).
  7. Next click on “Customize settings” (in blue with a pencil icon in front).
  8. Under “Things I share” you might want to uncheck “Include me in “People Here Now” after I check in”. Announcing here is the same as saying you are not at home (or work). Your boss, significant other, or a criminal might be checking where you are.
  9. Under “Things others share” click on “Edit Settings” of “Suggest Photos of me to friends”
  10. In the drop-down menu, click on “Disable” and then on “Okay” to be sure your changes stick
  11. In the same section click “Edit Settings” next to “Friends can check me into Places” and disable that option so friends cannot tell others where you are (if you don’t know why you should do this, please give it more thought)
  12. Since you are “in the zone” review your settings in the “Contact Information” section and be sure you are only giving out your email address and mobile phone to those you want. Even better delete your mobile phone number, just in case Facebook “accidentally shares this information sometime in the future.
  13. While you are at it, review all your other security and privacy settings
  14. Set a recurring reminder in your electronic or physical calendar to check your Facebook security settings at least once per month.

For a comprehensive overview of Facebook Privacy and settings, Paul Laudanski’s blog of June 3rd of this year is highly recommended reading: Facebook Privacy

Keeping the information you want to be private online is not any easy task, but it is unnecessarily reckless not to try. Talk to your friends and family and encourage them to take the steps we have outlined above … Today.

Remember … Technology + Awareness = Cybersecurity

David Carnevale
Director of Consumer Marketing
ESET North America

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