Want to disable Facebook facial recognition? Read this

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

Facebook is acquiring facial recognition firm Face.com, for an estimated $60 million.

Facebook acquires Face.com recognition

Facebook already uses Face.com's facial recognition technology to help it put a name to faces in photos uploaded to the social network. Now, with the acquisition of Face.com, the technology is coming in house.

So what does Facebook facial recognition actually do?

There are billions of photographs on Facebook's servers. As your Facebook friends upload their pictures, Facebook will try to determine if any of the photos look like you. And if it finds what it believes to be a match, it may urge one of your Facebook friends to tag the photo with your name.

That's what Facebook does with its facial recognition database right now. But nobody knows what it might do with it in the future.

Many people feel distinctly uncomfortable about a site like Facebook learning what they look like, and using that information without their explicit permission.

Although Facebook's motivation may currently be to interconnect more of its users, and make photo tagging a more seamless process, the idea of there being a database built of 900 million people's faces, with knowledge of who and what they like, and their personal relationships and conversations, puts a chill down the spine of privacy advocates.

Questions which are raised by Facebook's facial recognition capabilities include how securely the database of information is stored, and how else might Facebook try to use it - including whether they might use the data to make money.

So.. How can you disable Facebook's facial recognition technology?

Sadly, you can't.

But what you can do is prevent Facebook from using its facial recognition database to suggest to your Facebook friends, when they upload photos of you to the site, that the pictures should be tagged with your name.

This doesn't mean that Facebook won't learn about what you look like and associate it with your likes and friendships - but it does mean you can opt out of Facebook using the data it has collected on your appearance.

If you don't like the idea of Facebook suggesting your name when your friends upload photos, here's how you disable the option.

  • Go to your Facebook account's privacy settings.
  • Go to "Timeline and tagging" and click on "Edit settings".

Privacy options

  • Choose "Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?".

Tagging and timeline options

  • Select "No one" if you don't want Facebook to tell your friends when it has recognised your face in a photo they have uploaded.

Tag settings

  • Press "OK".

Unfortunately, Facebook doesn't believe in "privacy by default" - which would mean that users' express permission would be required ("opt-in") before information about them could be shared. (By comparison, Google+ does ask you to opt-in to facial recognition).

If Facebook's facial database is such a great concept - why doesn't the company present its arguments to users as to why they should want to participate in it, and invite them to "opt-in" to being included in the huge collection of faces?

Instead, Facebook puts the onus on users to "opt-out" of technology like photo tagging suggestions, and personal information is shared by default.

If you are on Facebook and want to keep yourself informed about the latest news from the world of internet security and privacy you could do a lot worse than join the Sophos Facebook page where we regularly discuss these issues and best practice.

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52 Responses to Want to disable Facebook facial recognition? Read this

  1. I don't understand the fuss here. Face book will only let me tag MY friends in MY photos. So what's the difference between FB suggesting to MY friends "is this David - do you want to tag him" and my friend thinking "I'll tag David" ?
    Especially as either circumstance lets me permanently remove the tag.

    If you don't want to be tagged by friends on FaceBook, it's quite simple, disable your account. It's not a compulsory service.

    When the day comes that FB starts tagging people that aren't my friends in photo's I upload, then I can see a major potential privacy issue, but until then, aren't you just desensitising readers to real issues with a 'story' like this ?

    • Guest · 1211 days ago

      Ummm....what if it's a picture you don't want to be recognized for.....

      ...just sayin.....

      • Jmatt · 1211 days ago

        Then maybe you should really think about where you are, what you're doing, and who is taking pictures of you.

        • Norm · 1202 days ago

          You can't control who takes photos of you, nor can you control where they post it and what they say about it.

    • Daniel · 1210 days ago

      And I am already tagged in several photos on Facebook despite the fact that I do NOT have and NEVER have had a Facebook account. So I would argue that it kind of is a compulsory service.

      • Then you can't be tagged. You may be labelled but not tagged. The difference being that labelling says "this is Daniel" but it doesn't link it to any other reference to Daniel. So although your friends may have labelled your image in a photo as "Daniel", it won't be linked to any other reference to Daniel - even if it's a photo in the same album.

      • Hmmmmm · 1210 days ago

        Am I the only one thinking. Corporately owned company starts switching on big brother style features to its very popular website that stores immense amounts of data of your life on servers in the US. Now they want to implement facial recognition and this is taught to be normal very early in life before you actually know your going to do anything with your life. Now I'm just throwing it out there but "seems legit"

    • Guest · 1208 days ago

      What you might be missing is that the tags will be seen by other users who are not common between you and your friend. Example is I do not want to be auto tagged to my weekend party and displayed to my work friends to be judged. Sometimes when tagging suggestion comes up it is easier to click yes than otherwise respect privacy. This will lead to more people tagging other people even if they never intended to.

  2. StephenB · 1211 days ago

    Perhaps it's because I already have a number of privacy settings in place but the instructions provided above were not accurate for me. Still a useful article in bringing this to peoples attention.

  3. Heather · 1211 days ago

    Sadly, I went and tried to do this and it is "unavailable".

  4. Colleen · 1211 days ago

    Unfortunately I was not able to do this as it was "unavailable". Maybe a reminder article in the future would be good, when this option is running for all users. Thanks.

    • It certainly seems strange that Facebook still hasn't rolled out this option to all users, as they first introduced it a year ago.

      A further puzzlement is whether if your facebook recognition settings are "unavailable" does that mean the same as them being turned "off"?

  5. Cheers,

    but I had this already in place :)

  6. Terry · 1211 days ago

    I just followed the instructions and it worked for me. Stupid Facebook, just collecting information and telling us It's ok, we value your privacy.

    • lakawak · 1207 days ago

      This didn't do ANYTHING new in collecting information. And it doesn't do anything that Google hasn't been doing for a DECADE. Google is a $185 BILLION company based SOLELY on gathering as much personal information on you as they can. And selling it to the highest bidder whether you like it or not. And even if you DON'T have a single Google account, they are still gathering any information they can on you to sell. Ever e-mail someone with a Gmail address? Then they scanned that e-mail. Ever go to any of the majority of sites online that have a Google Ad Sense account? They they have read all your cookies.

      At least Facebook only takes information that you EXPLICITLY give it. Meaning you can easily avoid it. With Google, you can't.

  7. Angel C · 1211 days ago

    Works for me, from the Philippines...thanks! But does mean my friends will now first "ask permission from me" before they can tag me?

    • Guest · 1209 days ago

      No, your friends will NOT ask for permission from you. Facebook will send you a notification and ask for approval from you. If you don't give permission, the tag will not be completed.

  8. Andrew · 1211 days ago

    The problem is, what if you don't want, or refuse to have, a Facebook account? Or you "delete" your Facebook account?

    As far as I can tell, people can still post pictures of you. The caveat is, you are not even there to prohibit it.

    So if you want to even have the illusion that you are concerned or worried about your personal privacy, you then HAVE NO CHOICE but to sign up to Facebook to stop people from tagging you. Maybe that is their secret plan to world dominance.

    What a vicious cycle we must endure.

    Or we can realize that Star Trek is already here and anyone can look up details about us and just roll with it. That would of course require the removal of all currency from the planet except bars of gold pressed latinum...

    • Richard · 1210 days ago

      By that argument, you'd have to sign up to *every* site that allows users to upload photos just in case.

      And even with a Facebook account, I don't think you can prohibit people from uploading photos of you; you can only stop them from tagging you in the photo. And if you don't have an account, they can't tag you (as David said above).

    • Guest · 1209 days ago

      They cannot "tag" you in a photo unless you have a Facebook account. The best they can do is write in your name in the captions area, but, if there is no account to tie it to, it goes nowhere, no way to relate it to your movements on the web.

    • lakawak · 1207 days ago

      I hate to tell you, but you are NOT important enough for people to go through untagged pictures (you obviously are not going to be in Facebook's facial recognition database if you have no account...and if your friends are tagging you without permission, that certainly is not Facebook's fault!) to see what you are up to. No one cares what you do with your time.

    • jim · 1147 days ago

      good luck deleteing yr fb acct. i closed 3 of them then went back a month later n entered my password and accts came right back up with all info n emails all still there. was told even after closing acct. fb keeps it there for at least a year

  9. Joe · 1211 days ago

    Just don't upload any pictures of yourself, including profile pictures, and the problem is solved. There are no pictures of me in my FB account, and as far as I know, no identified pictures of me anywhere on the net. That makes it a non-issue.

    • Gary S · 1210 days ago

      My method of that is all my profile pictures are of cartoon characters I like. If they want to try to match my picture to Calvin from 'Calvin and Hobbes' or Snoopy, let them. I know I'm not the only one who uses cartoon characters for a profile pic.

      • Richard · 1210 days ago

        That only works until they start disabling profiles which don't have a real photo and demanding a copy of your passport to verify your profile picture.

    • oleta · 1210 days ago

      I don't have any pictures of myself on FB either, but unfortunately that doesn't stop other people uploading pictures of me, and attempting to tag me in them.

      The only useful thing facial recognition software could offer me, would be if it allowed me to veto photos my 'friends' want to upload with me in them!

  10. Jmatt · 1210 days ago

    The problem here is that Facebook's initial principle was that this is a social networking website that was supposed to be closed-in and for specific people. They are still trying to act on that basic principle; however, they have forgotten the 'improvements" that they have done to the website to open it up to everybody and their dog - literally.

  11. Mavis · 1210 days ago

    It didn't work quite like this when I did it, I never got the option "no one" .

    However, it did let me choose a "custom" setting which I could then set to "only me"

  12. Internaut · 1210 days ago

    People - whether you have a FB account with a image or not is not the issue here; is it. It may be _your_ issue - so deal with it the way you want to but the article by Graham seems to be about FB privacy and the inability to disable the FB snoop aps.

    FB created the issue of privacy, or lack of any good control over it.
    I view FB as a place where there are no secrets, no anonymity, and no privacy - respected by FB or not. Think of FB as being all cameras. The issue should be, is FaceBook a public place, and as such, there is no perceived privacy, or is a FB user account private and should be treated as 'private' as it is defined by the public, not by FB - as is the case.

    It is Jun 19, 1984 and Orwell is 'I told you so'.

    • FB is a commercial organisation.
      They provide me with a tool whereby I can communicate with my friends and associates in a way that I couldn't previously.
      They don't charge me at source to use this facility, but they charge me indirectly by using/selling information about me in whatever (legal) way they want.
      They don't hide the fact that this is what they do. If I don't agree with it, then I don't have to use their service and thus I don't need to give them any of my data.

      • Richard · 1210 days ago

        Just make sure you sign out and delete all your cookies before visiting any sites with a "Like" button on them. And then delete all your cookies again before signing back in.

    • jaci · 1210 days ago

      You' right. Say it, forget it. Write it, regret it. Anything on the internet is now public domain.

  13. Susan Fox · 1210 days ago

    You must be on a different Facebook or have left out a step because I do not see a "Customize settings" when when I've clicked on Privacy Settings.

  14. Michael · 1210 days ago

    If you look carefully, you'll find there' s no way of preventing yourself being tagged in whatever photos someone else is uploading. Your 'friends' can still take photos of you, upload them and tag your name.
    The facial recognition is most likely still adding the same data as before from all the images - you just won't see it happening.

    • Guest · 1209 days ago

      I have mine set so that if someone tries to tag me, it sends a request for me to approve or not approve. It shows up underneath my profile pic.

  15. Zbrosmom · 1210 days ago

    So glad that I already had those settings in place. Keep up the great work Sophos! {:)

  16. VFAC · 1210 days ago

    The issue here is that due to the size of Facebook it has grown beyond the ability to opt out, and the ability to search or google the site has reduced the privacy through obscurity that we enjoy in the physical environment.

    If, as people have suggested you are able to tag people who aren't on facebook then those people have not agreed to the terms of the service, and are having personal information stored about them anyway, i.e. the link between their name, image and associates.

    Making the system suggest tagging of images makes it more likely that people will tag other people, increasing the chance of issues arising from this new dimension of information that they have. Unfortunately, SNS are so new and have grown so quickly that they haven't been able to establish their own code of morality or etiquette. You may have made a decision to not put any pictures of you that could be misinterpreted, but you cannot guarantee that others will do the same.

    What I will want to know is if you deny the tag of your image, will the link between your account and the image be destroyed or will it remain in the system as a link that is not revealed. This may become crucial if governments do finally get permission for warrant less data retrieval from facebook, or if they do get hacked.

  17. encryptography · 1210 days ago

    And my friends fail to understand why I do not have a FB account. nor that I plane to have one. The problem is that I may still be tagged when friends upload images that I might be included in.

    In order to prevent my warts and wrinkles being used to establish a facial recognition data bank I can start to include third party notarized digital image non-disclosure agreements that people sign when I attend get together's. However, people may still capture candid images unbeknownst to my battery of attorneys, notary agents and security forces I must also add additional layers to my anonymity plan.

    Step 1: Remain Facebook account free. Step 2: Hire well trained security staff. Step 3: Stay isolated indoors and when traveling outdoors wear a hoodie. Step 4: Wear sunglasses and fake nose. Step 5: Avoid being in areas where people wearing hoodies, sunglasses and fake noses are thay are likely to be seen as armed robbers and shot.

    Obviously this is going over the top, simply wearing a paper bag over my head should do the trick.

  18. Lawyer · 1209 days ago

    If somone uploads a picture of you without permission, just sue them.

    There are websites where people upload pics of ex-girlfriends and the like and the ex-girlfriends have sucessfully managed to sue. Some of the ex-boyfirends who have uploaded the pics have even gone to prison. So I don't see why Facebook pics should be any different.

    If someone uploads and tags a photo of you without your permission they should either go to prison or be sued.

    • Guest · 1209 days ago

      That doesn't change the fact that you have, from that point on, had your privacy voided.

    • Henri · 1199 days ago

      But you typically can't check without an account

  19. Tattooed_mummy · 1209 days ago

    if you consistantly tag photos of, say, a penguin with your name will FB eventially suggest all penguins are you? How does it 'learn' who you are?

  20. Rubin · 1209 days ago


    I have been an IT professional since many of you were still a gleam in your dad's eye.

    There are a few things to consider when pondering statements concerning change.

    1. Consider the source.

    2. Remember also that those who talk don't know and those who know don't talk.

    3. Finally, I recall an old adage my dear Grandmother taught to me and that is
    "If you didn't do so much devilment during the day, you would not be afraid to
    close your eyes at night."

    Enough said.

  21. Loring · 1209 days ago

    Throw off the recognition. Tag yourself in others' photos. Then the facial recognition software would have conflicting information about what you really look like.

  22. This is not "available" to me as an option. Either they're not doing it here yet or there's some other glitch.

  23. nsd · 1208 days ago

    Users should pressurise facebook into using face recognition technology in privacy-enhancing ways. For example, it would be easy for them for implement options such as "warn me when others upload photos of me", "automatically pixellate my face in photos that others upload" etc.

    Social norms also have an important role to play. If enough people make it clear to their friends that they don't want photos depicting them uploaded to facebook, then eventually the norm will develop that one should ask somebody's permission before uploading a photo of them.

  24. Thomas · 1208 days ago

    The image you place with the big red oval does not exist. This is as close as I came to seeing this subject:

    Links and Tags
    Anyone can add a link to a story. Links are references to something on the Internet; anything from a website to a Page or timeline on Facebook. For example, if you are writing a story, you might include a link to a blog you are referencing or a link to the blogger's Facebook timeline. If someone clicks on a link to another person's timeline, they'll only see the things that they are allowed to see.
    A tag is a special type of link to someone's timeline that suggests that the tagged person add your story to their timeline. In cases where the tagged person isn't included in the audience of the story, it will add them so they can see it. Anyone can tag you in anything. Once you are tagged, you and your friends will be able to see it (such as in News Feed or in search).
    You can choose whether a story you've been tagged in appears on your timeline. You can either approve each story individually or approve all stories by your friends. If you approve a story and later change your mind, you can always remove it from your timeline.
    If you do not want someone to tag you, we encourage you to reach out to them and give them that feedback. If that does not work, you can block them. This will prevent them from tagging you going forward.

  25. Clint · 1205 days ago

    It's naive that people here think their face and likeness -- already on a driver's license, passport, etc -- is not already known to the government and marketing corporations. Doing this doesn't change that in the slightest. A false sense of fake security is a dangerous thing.

  26. weboseo1 · 1195 days ago

    Simply means when your friend (or your friend's friends) uploads a group picture and one of the faces happens to look like you, it will ask him to tag you.

    Years from now, we exactly don't know if a lot of people will still be using Facebook due to privacy scare.

    One thing I do not want to happen is when somebody "shares" your picture without your permission. I don't think it's existing in our security settings.

    Another solution I could share is to use a pseudonym; restrict your picture views, and stop adding/confirming friend requests even if you do not know the person.

  27. sswam · 1055 days ago

    The CIA wants to use it to train killer robots, like "terminators".

    I'm speculating, but not joking.

    Seriously people, it's not a good idea to have a big database of faces linked to names in the hands of a company with known links to the "intelligence" agencies.

    Facebook is very willing to providing comprehensive dossiers of everything about you and (your friends) to the police on demand. I believe they do this so very well, because they were already giving such dossiers to the CIA.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley