By Alexandra Burlacu | Sep 23, 2012 12:14 PM EDT
Facebook shut down its facial recognition tool in Europe on Friday, Sept. 21, based on recommendations from the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). The Commission did not specifically demand the feature be completely removed, but Commissioner Billy Hawkes said he is pleased with the end result. New Facebook users will no longer be able to access the feature, and current templates will be deleted by Oct. 15.
"I am particularly encouraged in relation to the approach [Facebook] has decided to adopt on the tag suggest/facial recognition feature by in fact agreeing to go beyond our initial recommendations, in light of developments since then, in order to achieve the best practice," said the Commissioner.
The move follows the DPC's completion of an investigation into Facebook's implementation of privacy recommendations the Commission requested back in December. Facebook agreed at the time to be more transparent about its photo-tagging feature and how its European users' data is being used. In addition, the social networking giant also promised European users to provide them with more information about how the facial recognition feature works, so they could decide for themselves whether they want to use it or not.
"As our regulator in Europe, the Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is constantly working with us to ensure that we keep improving on the high standards of control that we have built into our existing tools," a Facebook spokesman told PCMag in a statement.
According to the spokesman, the review on Friday is an ongoing process of oversight, and Facebook's decision to turn off facial recognition for European users confirms that the social network complies with, and even exceeds the initial DPC recommendations.
In its review, the DPC notes that most of its recommendations have been fully implemented, including better transparency regarding how user data is handled, increased user control over settings, as well as increased control for users to delete personal data.
Deputy DPC commissioner Gary Davis said that strong discussions and negotiations proved constructive, working towards the collective goal of compliance with data protection requirements.
"There were a number of items on which progress was not fully forward as we had hoped and we have set a deadline of 4 weeks for these matters to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion," said Davis. "It is also clear that ongoing engagement with the company will be necessary as it continues to bring forward new ways of serving advertising to users and retaining users on the site."
This is not the first time Facebook has raised concerns about users' data privacy. German data protection officials requested last year that Facebook turn off its facial recognition software and delete any previously stored data. Earlier this month the officials reopened their investigation, claiming that the data protection commissioner in Hamburg had failed to come to an agreement with Facebook over the issue.
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