A dream come true for a company that’s got strong ties to both the CIA and DARPA.
But let’s backtrack a second.
Facebook received $12.7 million in funding from Accel Partners, who’s manager James Breyer served on the board of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm established by the CIA, alongside CEO Gilman Louie.
And that’s not all:
Breyer also served on the board of R&D firm BBN Technologies, which was one of those companies responsible for the rise of the internet.
Dr Anita Jones joined the firm, which included Gilman Louie. She had also served on the In-Q-Tel’s board, and had been director of Defence Research and Engineering for the US Department of Defence.
She was also an adviser to the Secretary of Defence and overseeing the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is responsible for high-tech, high-end development.
So with the company already having been forced to repeatedly deny claims it is or has participated in and or provided data for government run facial profiling in the past, and only this week settled a related class action out of court – agreeing pay twenty million dollars to a group of plaintiffs citing privacy breaches over its “Sponsored Stories” program – it claims this broad expansion of facial recognition technology is actually aimed at giving users better control of their personal information.
Stating that the change is designed to expand the scope and performance of the platform’s “Tag and Suggest” image handling interface, the company claims the move is an innocent one and intended to take advantage of facial recognition advances to increase the rate of “tagging” of individuals in images posted to the social media platform. Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan said “It’s actually a good thing to be tagged in more photos, because that’s how you’ll know they exist on Facebook. Then from there, you can take the photos down, or if you need to, report them.”
However others have already accused the social media giant of once again rampantly trampling on the right to privacy of its users. While part of the proposal does include the ability for users to opt out, once again this change will be stealthily introduced, quietly hidden without fanfare, then automatically set to “on” – meaning less aware or technologically comfortable users who do not actively monitor both their privacy settings and Facebook updates to them will not only have their profile images used in this database, but they won’t even know it is happening.
The automated facial recognition software itself was previously considered so objectionable in the European Union that statutory regulations already exist that prevent the implementation of the existing “Tag Suggest” software. As such the social media juggernaut will likewise be unable to apply the latest change to accounts held in European Union nations, making them the only users who will not find their profile images – past and present – being collected, analysed and quite possibly sold off in the future to interested marketing based 3rd parties.
The changes, flagged in an update made to the site’s privacy policies to be released yesterday, will allow the company to take the profile image of users and compare it to other photos posted across the social media giant, then suggest tagging to both the original user and friends who post images that are identified of them. The exact proposed language change in the terms and conditions is “We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend’s pictures to information we’ve put together from your profile pictures and other photos in which you’ve been tagged”.
While the “Tag and Suggest” feature already uses facial recognition software to compare newly uploaded photos with tags made in the past, the proposed expansion will allow Facebook to take profile pictures of its one billion plus membership – including images presently and previously used as profile pictures – and draw reference information from them, regardless of if the user was previously tagged in them or not, representing a massive increase in the ability of Facebook to visually profile individual users and create an index of this information.
While Facebook maintains the resulting visual profiling database would not be made available for sale to third parties, their dubious record of breaching their own policies or changing them to suit market conditions serve to make this claim unreliable at best.
Yesterday’s terms and conditions updates also touched on Facebook’s statement of Rights and Responsibilities, adjusting wordings used to make it more clear that minors under the age of 18 are considered to have valid parental or legal guardian consent for marketers to use their personal information. This update is considered to be a direct response to the settling of a class action against the site’s lucrative sponsored stories program, which cost the company $20m.