Facebook ‘Moments’ Program - June, 2015

Facebook ‘Moments’ Program

Facebook recently launched a new service, or mobile-device app, “Moments,” that examines the photos in a mobile-device and categorizes them into temporal events with “tags” for the individual faces that are recognized from a person’s groups and friends.  The app has raised some privacy concerns, because the database Facebook compiles also contains biographical information of users and creates an archive of where a person has been and who a person was with; the widespread use of such data could lead to an effect of “normalizing surveillance.”

A recent article notes that the app “uses “facial technology and makes it easier than ever to quickly track others’ whereabouts and the company they keep – all without their permission, and on the internet.”  Thus, “[i]n the worst case scenario, the technology could one day be used to compile and publish moments outside an AIDS treatment center, an abortion clinic, a gay bar, a church, a strip club, a mosque, a union meeting and so on.”

Many businesses, including casinos, Google, Microsoft, and Homeland Security, use facial recognition software.  The use of the technology led a nine-group coalition, comprised of the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others, to enter talks (hosted by the Commerce Department) with industry groups to set guidelines for the use of such data.  However, after 16-months the talks were recently abandoned after the business groups refused to discuss any boundaries on use of the information.

Because the industry groups are private businesses, the protections of the Fourth Amendment do not apply, and the article points out that there are few legal protections available to consumers.  The Federal Trade Commission has some authority, but, apparently, little power.   Several states (including Texas, Illinois and Washington) have enacted laws restricting the collection and use of biometric data.  Also, the European Union and Canada prohibit Facebook from activating the tag-feature.

Source:  Jeff John Roberts, “Who owns your face? Weak laws give power to Facebook,” www.fortune.com, June 17, 2015: http://fortune.com/2015/06/17/facebook moments-privacy-facial-recognition/

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor