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Facebook faces allegations of privacy violations and manipulating consent for facial recognition

Facebook is facing criticism for its reintroduction of facial recognition for the platform’s European users earlier this year, The New York Times reports.

Member of European Parliament Viviane Reding, who was the justice commissioner of the European Commission when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was proposed, suggests Facebook is misrepresenting its facial recognition technology as an identity protection tool to obtain consent.

“Facebook is somehow threatening me that, if I do not buy into face recognition, I will be in danger,” said Reding. “It goes completely against the European law because it tries to manipulate consent.”

The Times reports that more than a dozen privacy and consumer groups are arguing that Facebook does not obtain appropriate user consent, and is violating user privacy. The Data Protection Commission of Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters, has made queries to the company on the topic, and is evaluating its responses, according to the Times.

Facebook is also facing an FTC complaint filed in April, and a class action suite under Illinois’ BIPA.

Facebook spokesperson Rochelle Nadhiri told the Times in an email that a recent update to the privacy section of the social media platform “shows people how the setting works in simple language.”

“We provide clear information to people about how we use face recognition technology,” she writes.

Karios CEO Brian Brackeen, however, disagrees. “When Tag Suggestions asks you ‘Is this Jill?’ you don’t think you are annotating faces to improve Facebook’s face recognition algorithm,” he said. “Even the premise is an unfair use of people’s time and labor.”

The FTC complaint, which is led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, alleges that Facebook’s patent applications, which describe several commercial and retail applications of facial recognition technology, reveal the purpose of its biometric technology development.