Facebook is turning facial recognition back on - so here's how to check your "photo tagging" settings

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Facebook's controversial flirtation with facial recognition is back in the spotlight.

At the end of 2010, the tell-us-all-about-yourself social networking service announced that it would be using facial recognition to make it easier for you to tag other people in your photos.

Just in case you didn't know the names of all of the "friends" in photos you'd uploaded, Facebook's plan was to help you out.

Although it didn't try to do anything you couldn't have done yourself, and merely suggested a name and awaited your approval, there was no provision for the person whom Facebook thought it had recognised to get involved in the approval process.

Facebook would tell you that you had been tagged, in case you wanted to opt out. But it wouldn't let you choose in the first place, even though it was claiming to know who you were.

That caused not a few people (including me) to reach for the word "creepy". It certainly made it much more likely that you'd end up identified online without your consent, since people you didn't know well were now more likely to know or to find out who you were.

This whole facial recognition saga has been through a series of on-again, off-again machinations since then.

Last year, Facebook temporarily suspended the feature "to make some technical improvements," in its own words. But now it's back:

As we announced last year, we temporarily suspended our photo tag suggestion feature to make some technical improvements. Today, we're re-enabling the feature in the United States so that people can use facial recognition to help them easily identify a friend in a photo and share that content with them. This is the same feature that millions of people previously used to help them quickly share billions of photos with friends and family.

Like before, it's reappearing first in the US.

And bad luck if you're one of the 90% of Naked Security readers who said they'd prefer Facebook to be entirely opt-in last time we asked:

You're not going to be asked if you want this feature turned back on, notwithstanding that it's different. The decision will be made for you.

With this in mind, it's probably worth revisiting your Facebook privacy settings relevant to tagging. You can dig the answer out of Facebook's own help page with a little bit of work:

Be sure to read on, though, to make sure you realise how much value Facebook puts on you leaving this feature enabled:

Before you opt out of using this feature, we encourage you to consider how tag suggestions benefit you and your friends. Our tagging tools (including grouping photos that look similar and suggesting friends who might be in them) are meant to make it easier for you to share your memories and experiences with your friends.

Convinced? Have you made your mind up now?

OK, here's a visual summary of how to manage photo tagging on your Facebook account.

You start by clicking on the gear icon at the far right, and choosing Privacy Settings from the menu:

Then go to the menu at the far left, and choose Timeline and Tagging:

And now review your settings, including the all-important Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded:

And that's how to do it. Take care out there!

If you are on Facebook and want to keep yourself informed about the latest news from the world of internet security and privacy, join the Sophos Facebook page where more than 200,000 people regularly discuss these issues and best practice.

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19 Responses to Facebook is turning facial recognition back on - so here's how to check your "photo tagging" settings

  1. Jack · 571 days ago

    you can disable it but I think it's already too late... "they" need your picture for face recognition so "they" can find you with their security cameras if they feel the need.

  2. Graham · 571 days ago

    And there is no way to preemptively turn off this "feature" before it becomes "available".

  3. MCF · 570 days ago

    Who are "they?"

  4. Clem · 570 days ago

    It says the who sees suggestion option is unavailable to me!!!!! I cant even adjust it!

    • Paul Ducklin · 570 days ago

      I guess that means you aren't in the US and thus it's not re-enabled yet.

      If so, that's very cheeky of Facebook, as it means you can't set the option in advance for when it does get re-enabled. (See @Graham's comment above.)

      If the feature really *is* as good and useful as the company claims on its help page, surely you'd be willing to turn it on anyway...

      ...but in your own good time?

  5. Guest · 570 days ago

    How do set all our content so that only friends see it? I have come across many "private" profiles but according to the settings i found even the public can see my notes and "follow" me with out my permission even if they aren't friends! WTF?

  6. Ton · 569 days ago

    And people that don't have a Facebook account??

    They are also tagged in photos without any permitions. How can we remove them if we don't have a a fckng facebook account?

    Facebook private policies don't protect people outside facebook and dont want to be tagged or have any data in their site. Thats crazy, creepy and i don't ear nobody talk about it.

    • Paul · 569 days ago

      This doesn't make sense Ton. Tagging by its very nature requires you to have a Facebook account. If you don't have one all someone can do is type your name, which they can do anywhere for any reason anyway. Get over it.

      • Alidu · 568 days ago

        What does "having a FB account" really mean? The first time I was sent a request by a friend to join, I didn' know that I would be "automatically set-up" just by virtue of visiting their site. I didn't know what FB was at the time.

        I have never used it again. And, although I have tried to get my FB "profile" disabled, I still receive loads of e-mail from FB as though I were on FB. Creepy and insidious doesn't even begin to describe it.

        What assurances do I have they won't use this "profile" to tag me? Where are the protections against this garbage?

  7. Kit Walker · 569 days ago

    Yes, Ton is correct. I haven't a Facebook account as I wish my details to remain private and this seems like a complete breach of my desire for/right to privacy.

    I expect this isn't available in Europe for this very reason. From what I understand data protection and privacy rights would make it illegal or at least put Facebook in breach of regulations over there.

    US citizens need the same rights.

  8. Guest · 569 days ago

    I know few people are going to do this, but the only way around it is to not post any photos of yourself, at all. I have none on my page and feel a little bit better about my privacy because of it.
    I know people who constantly post pictures of themselves, family, and friends though, and who wouldn't want to do this, so of course the next best thing is to follow the steps offered here. Excellent directions, and I urge anyone who can set their account to do so, before it's too late.

  9. guest · 569 days ago

    And what about tagging of people that aren't in facebook?
    I can understand that someone can upload a photo and tag someone, but this tag-info shouldn't propagate until approved by who is tagged.

    Also speaking of security and privacy.....

    I received recently an SMS from facebook.
    Consider that I never had been in FB and obviously I never had given my phone number to FB.

    That SMS told me something like...
    "firstname has shared some images with you. Check them out <link>"

    Obviously someone that know me and has my phone number had used probably a mobile FB app that scraped numbers and so FB had sent me a SMS when that user probably told FB to share some photos.

    but....
    1) why FB doesn't tell me who is the user? How can I can know with only a first name???
    2) as you send me an sms with a link, why that link can't show me those pictures?
    Following link ask me to register or to register phone number with an existing account
    3) I don't want to be in FB, why you FB keep data of me

    about data of me, I can understand that FB eventually could keep some data of me as is data inserted by an user. But such data should be strictly private and not sharable and would need an assurance that such data won't be used for anything like marketing, further elaboration and so on.....

  10. glenna · 568 days ago

    When I went to change it to no one, it is not an option for me. It says " this is not available to you yet" Sooo how does this effect me? Why is opting out of this not available to me? Sorry I am not very savvy in all of this an do not understand. Anyone????

  11. ve1arn · 568 days ago

    Unavailable for me here as well.

  12. Tara Ballance · 568 days ago

    At one time my Facebook profile pic showed me with my lovebird perched on my head. Which resulted in a couple photos of birds being tagged with my name. I had a good laugh at that, then disabled the auto-tagging. I wonder if it'll happen again this time.

  13. Mark Brunn · 564 days ago

    If i disabled it in the past, do i have to do it again now?!

    Facebook saves all the data, always... what happend?

  14. guest · 451 days ago

    with this, kinect 2, google glass... Alex Jones was right.. God help us all.

  15. Don · 303 days ago

    Hi All,

    I believe I may have had an interesting experience with facebook's facial recognition capabilities. It happened as I was building a graphic to use as a banner on a facebook event page I was setting up. It seems that the thumbnail facebook creates out of the image defaults to the center of the image EXCEPT when there is an image of a face in the graphic. In that case, facebook adjusts the focus of the thumbnail to be the image of the face vs. anything else. Seemed no matter where in the graphic I placed the image of the face (the featured speaker of the event in this case), facebook would orient the thumbnail to include the picture of the face. Now, in this particular case, it was EXTREMELY frustrating because I wanted the thumbnail to focus on a specific non-facial graphic in the banner, so I am left with the only option to forego including a facial image in the banner so that I can achieve the desired image in the thumbnail.

    I guess the reason I am posting this is to find out if there is any way to 'defeat' facebook's use of facial recognition in this particular application?

  16. Jan Mnl · 30 days ago

    Facebook seems to tag people on my photos that are viewable to only me, thereby making the photo viewable to the tagged person and her friends. How do I disable FB's auto tagging?

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog