By Kaitlyn Jakola, Northwestern University
One thing that is certain about the future is that, when it comes, computers and/or robots will overthrow humans, launching us into a post-apocalyptic nightmare resembling either The Terminator or The Matrix. Sci-fi nerds have long debated the form of the mechanical scourge that will swiftly bring about humanity’s demise. We may not know the true face of technological terror until the fateful day finally arrives, but that won’t stop Hollywood from trying to make money off of the speculation.
Last year, Hollywood offered our future slave-drivers a new face —err, Facebook — with the release of The Social Network. Since then, Facebook has spent countless hours in court, fighting the thousands of people who claim Mark Zuckerberg stole their ideas. So far, however, the social media megalith has done little to disprove theories about its plans for world domination.
The latest concern over Facebook comes in the form of photo tagging using facial recognition. The practice is, at best, a sketchy trick designed to make everyone’s skin crawl just a little bit — at worst, it’s completely illegal.
While Facebook has admitted that rolling out the new feature without any sort of announcement, fanfare or warning may have been a little weird, they’ve yet to agree to turn it off. As if that weren’t enough, the default setting for the feature, like just about everything else on Facebook, is “on,” meaning that until your dad asks your mom why Facebook suggested tagging you in that picture of the milkman taken around the time you were born, you may not even know it’s been enabled.
Whether you’d like to shut the feature down completely or just weigh your options, here’s our guide to understanding why so many people find it creepy and what you can do to stop it:
What it does: Facial recognition software scans tagged photos of you to locate physical characteristics unique to you. When you or a friend uploads new pictures to Facebook, that data is used to suggest that you may be in those photos. Once confirmed, you are notified of the photo tag, and Facebook keeps that information to improve upon its recognition data. You can only tag friends, and tags can be removed.
Why it’s weird: At its heart, facial recognition tagging isn’t so dissimilar from photo tagging processes used by other programs (PCWorld names Google’s Picasa and Apple’s iPhoto). And as usual, you have the option to remove tags. However, Facebook is doing this on the internet, on a server entirely out of your hands, and it’s not asking for permission first. The feature, as we’ve mentioned, is turned on by default, and the data it collects about your physical appearance from already-tagged photos could theoretically be used in millions of ways you may not be so happy about. It’s even more difficult to figure out how to get them to delete that data, as their help section directs you to a “Delete Photo Comparison Data” button that simply doesn’t exist, and the FAQ page that you need doesn’t come up in the help search bar.
How to make it stop: First, you need to change your personal privacy settings. These are reachable through the “Account” tab at the top of your Facebook homepage. Select “Customize settings” at the bottom of the settings window and scroll down to the “Things others share” section of the page that loads. There you will see “Suggest photos of me to friends” next to a button that says “Edit Settings.” The explanation window that shows up will give you more information about the feature, and has a (tiny, well-hidden) drop-down box that says “Enabled” by default. Select “Disabled” and then “Okay” at the bottom of the popup to save the settings.
If you’d like to go one step further, you can also ask Facebook to get rid of any data it may have collected about you using facial recognition. While there’s not really any way to ensure that they do it, you can request that they wipe your data by going here. Click “contact us” in the first line of the answer and submit the default message displayed in the popup window to ask that Facebook delete your data.