What Facebook selected to not tell you about face recognition

Facebook is rolling out automatic face recognition globally. Many users have already got the question if it is OK to turn on this feature. The question comes with an explanation of the benefits. But is that the whole story? No, they selected to leave out a lot of important stuff, and it is quite obvious that Facebook wants us to enable it.

Let’s go through the pros and cons.

The benefits of having face recognition enabled

Nice presentation, but something is missing.

This is the part Facebook included in the explanation.

  • It’s easier to tag you and others in pictures because Facebook can identify people and suggest the right names.

  • Facebook can help protect against identity theft by warning if someone else is using a picture of you as profile picture.

  • Facebook can tell visually impaired users who’s in a picture.

  • You can get noticed if someone uploads pictures of you without tagging you.

All these are real benefits that probably work in practice. Another question is how relevant they are to you.

Disadvantages of enabling face recognition

This is the part Facebook left out.

  • Facebook knows where you are as soon as someone uploads a picture of you. Even if you selected to not share that information.

  • Facebook knows with whom you are as soon as someone uploads a picture of you. Even if you selected to not share that information.

  • Facebook knows what bars, restaurants or concerts you go to as soon as someone uploads a picture of you. Even if you selected to not share that information.

  • Facebook can analyze pictures from other sources to associate you with places, people or events. Even if you selected to not share that information.

  • Uploaded contact lists can contain profile pictures. Face recognition may enable Facebook to map your contact info even more thoroughly, and correlate data about you from different sources more efficiently.

  • Face recognition technology has improved a lot lately, but is still not flawless. It can associate you with places, people or events you have nothing to do with in reality.

You may have chosen to share all this anyway. But the key point is that face recognition reduces your ability to control what you share. Facebook collects data in many different ways, both directly from you and indirectly from your friends, among many other sources. The indirect data collection from your friends is problematic because you can’t control it. Face recognition boosts Facebook’s ability to utilize this indirect channel, thus reducing your own control.

Conclusion

To me it seems like the cons outweighs the pros. My recommendation is to turn off face recognition, except in the cases listed below.

  • If you have a habit of constantly sharing where you are and with whom anyway. In this case it probably doesn’t matter much, and you may get some benefits of face recognition.

  • If you know that one of the benefits is important to you, like you are being the victim of identity theft. Then you have to assess the pros and cons, and make your decision based on that.

My choice is to turn it off. I want to retain as much control as possible.

This is probably the optimal answer for most people.

Micke