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In The News - Facebook's face recognition technology (and how to turn it off)

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Helen Purves Helen Purves | 12:22 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Facebook has recently rolled out a new feature which means that if you're a member of this very popular social networking website you could find yourself being "tagged" in a lot more photos from now on. 

The site is starting to use facial recognition technology - meaning it can recognise your face in photos - and in a controversial move, it's not letting people know about it . 

This means that when people upload photos, Facebook automatically "reads" them, and can detect whether or not you're in that photo.  Your Facebook contacts can then "tag" you, meaning the photo appears on your profile page and is linked to your account.  Facebook have posted an informative official blog entry saying that this makes things more convenient for its users but many have criticised the company, saying it raises concerns around privacy.

If you're worried about this and wish to turn the feature off, here's how to do it:

  1. On the top right hand side of your Facebook homepage (when logged in) click the small down-pointing arrow and then "Privacy Settings".
  2. Next to where it says "How tags work", click on the small blue text link named "Edit settings".
  3. A window will pop up, click the word "Friends" next to the words "Tag suggestions - when friends upload photos that look like you"
  4. Another box will pop up on your screen, with photos of your friends. Under this,you'll see "Who sees tag suggestions when pictures that look like me are uploaded", and the grey button next to it which says "Friends"
  5. Click on this button, select "No one" and close the box by clicking "OK".


You can find out more on the following (non-BBC) websites:

BBC News Technology have just covered this story too - you can find their article here.

In case you're not familar with Facebook, we have an article explaining what it is - and a blog entry, which you can find here.


  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    Thank you for showing how to "switch off" the feature. no one else has explained how to actually do this.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks Helen
    Can't believe they did this without telling us!

  • Comment number 4.

    @PragueImp - I know, a very controversial move. It would be nice if they made it easier for users to turn this feature off - people who aren't terribly techy will have problems, I think. Perhaps all the news stories circulating will make Facebook reconsider.

  • Comment number 5.

    I wouldn't mind them introducing new stuff if only the default was set to "disabled". Then it could be a positive feature you find out about rather than something inflicted on you.

  • Comment number 6.

    @Anon - That's what we do (amongst other things)! Drop us a line if you ever want anything similar explained - our contact form is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/contact-us

  • Comment number 7.

    I don't see the problem with this. Only your friends can tag you in pictures, no one else. It's only making it easier for Facebook users to create albums. People don't HAVE to be tagged, there are always options of not putting peoples names in when asked and as a user you have the option to remove tags of yourself in any pictures. I know Facebook has been in trouble before over privacy issues, but this is not a privacy issue. It's an update in their technology to make it easier for users, it does not give out any information or take any information.

  • Comment number 8.

    I noticed this as I posted some pictures on Facebook a few days ago; I thought it's great! It picked up my wife's face and suggested the correct tag; you still have to chose - or not - to apply the tag, so I don't see where the problem is. They are NOT tagging the pictures for you - just making it easier to tag them if you want to.

    Of course, it was hilarious that it also recognised the face of a friend in a picture of a weirdly-shaped rock (which did not actually have any face in it).

  • Comment number 9.

    Face recognition should not be used on Facebook at all. This affects not only Facebook members, but also any non-member whose face appears in a photo posted on Facebook, that someone has tagged. How can non-Facebook members guard their identities on Facebook? Face recognition technonogy should be banned on all social websites.

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for that!

  • Comment number 11.

    Thanks, we'r all under control then! Big Brother...

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm really stunned by this article in "Webwise". No real explanation of the new feature Facebook have made, which would have reassured people, just how to turn it off.

    To reassure @reddcroww - this new feature will not affect non-facebook members. There is no way that non-facebook members can be tagged. In face there is no way a facebook member can even be tagged by another facebook member unless they are "friends" on facebook.

    Tagging of photos has existed for a long time on facebook, and any facebook member will be aware of it and how it works.

    For those that don't know, here's a "webwise" as to how it works:
    1) A member uploads a photo(s) to an album in there area of facebook
    2) Once uploaded that member says that they want to tag people in the photo
    3) They click on a person in the photo and list of their friends (and just their facebook friends) is shown to them. If they have already tagged friends in the album those names are shown at the top to make it easier to find likely friends in the photo(s). Otherwise they have to search for that friends name
    4) They click on the name and that friend is tagged to the photo

    All this "facial recognition" does is scan your own pre-tagged photos and make a guess as to who the friend is in the new photo.

    Imagine you have had a party, have uploaded your photos to facebook and now want to start tagging your friends. Before, you had to find your friends name in a list. If you've got loads of photos with lots of your friends in, this would take some time. Now it will show you the "most likely" people in each photo - time saver. But you still have to click to tag that person. It is not automatic and you have full control.

    As for the "facial recognition". This is no where near facial recognition that could be used by the police, or in a court. All it is doing is scanning the photo and looking for basic features an patterns. It is crude and has funny effects when it shows you a friends name for a rock, or a telephone, or a plant.

    Those which have used Google Goggles will be aware of this type of technology. You take a photo of a person or a building and it tries to match it with similar photos on a Google search. Then it can tell you who it is or where you are.

    The fact that facebook have this feature turned on by default is no problem. IT IS NOT AFFECTING PRIVACY any more than your tagging was already set up.


  • Comment number 13.

    @Park_Lane_Spurs Thanks for posting this more detailed explanation. Unfortunately we don't always have time or space to cover things in the detail we would like, although we do have a couple of articles about Facebook already. It's great of you to give our readers more information about how this works - thanks again.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thank you so much for this, your steps really helped me.. been browsing through facebook's privacy settings for minutes now.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 16.

    I would have no problem with the system if they'd told us and given us the option to opt-into it in the first place. It makes Facebook easier to use in one respect. I've disabled the function just on the principle that I wasn't given the choice in the first place. I'm not a big fan of having that choice taken away from me. HOWEVER I found out today that last night, AFTER I'd disabled the function one of my friends uploaded some pictures and it STILL suggested I be tagged in them. I'm not happy with the situation at all.

  • Comment number 17.

    If you don't want to be tagged in a picture, its simple...De-tag yourself!


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