Facebook biometric profiling could be illegal



Mick Meaney – RINF News |

Facebook has come under fire again for refusing to delete biometric profiles of its users, with the German office for data protection calling the practice illegal.

Johannes Caspar, head of the Hamburg office for data protection, has criticized Facebook for storing users biometric data without consent, claiming the social network is in breach of European privacy regulations.

Today talks between Caspar and Facebook have failed, which centered around the websites ‘Photo Tag Suggest’ feature that allows Facebook to automatically identify users unique facial characteristics.

Mr Caspar, who led the German investigation into Google’s illegal collection of personal data during its controversial Street View project, has requested that Facebook give members the choice of opting in to the service, rather than opting out.

Mr Caspar wants the website to come into line with  European Union privacy rules, saying: “Facebook will be obliged to delete this data unless it obtains approval by all concerned users,” he said, adding that “due to the immense potential of misuses of biometric data the explicit consent is a legal requirement for the collecting and processing of biometric data.”

Facebook deny any wrong doing, claiming the service “is fully compliant with EU data protection laws.”

“During our continuous dialogue with our supervisory authority in Europe, the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, we agreed to develop a best practice solution to notify people on Facebook about Photo Tag Suggest.”

The ‘Photo Tag Suggest’ feature had been suspended for new European users, as of 1 July 2012, while Facebook discus the issue with authorities.

Mr Caspar welcomed the decision but noted:  “Facebook clearly recognises that the process of collecting biometric data is at least not in accordance with data protection law in Europe. But Facebook can’t just stay halfway there.”

Facebook could be fined a paltry 25,000 euros ($31,000) if it refuses to change its consent practices and remove the biometric database.

The social giant is showing no signs of slowing down its data collection plans, and is about to build a 62,000-square-foot data center in additional to its two existing data centers, at its Prineville facility in  Oregon.

Image credit