Don't Want Facebook to Recognize You in Photos? Here's How to Opt Out

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 21 2012 3:53 PM

Facebook Has Automatically Signed You Up for Facial Recognition. Here’s How to Opt Out.

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Gail Sredanovic of the activist group Raging Grannies protests outside of Facebook's former Palo Alto headquarters in 2010.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Now that we know Facebook is about to get a lot better at recognizing our faces, what can we do about it?

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

If you’re the sort of person who wants your friendly social media company to get to know you as well as possible, I have good news: You don’t have to do anything at all. Facebook signs you up for facial recognition by default, so all you have to do is sit back and let your friends teach the company’s algorithms exactly how to identify your face in their photos. In fact, there's a good chance this is already happening, since Facebook was using some of Face.com's technology even before the acquisition.

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If, on the other hand, you still cling to quaint notions about privacy and anonymity, the news is mixed. There’s no way to stop Facebook from learning what you look like based on the photos in which you’re tagged, and if you haven't already opted out, it may know your mug pretty well already. But you can easily opt out of the feature in which Facebook uses that information to make your name pop up whenever your friends upload a photo of you.

In his Naked Security blog, Graham Cluley of the computer security firm Sophos explains how. His handy guide comes with pictures, but here are the three basic steps:

1.     Open your Facebook privacy settings
2.     Next to “Timeline and Tagging,” select “Edit Settings.”
3.     Next to “Who sees tag suggestions when photos that look like you are uploaded?”, select “No One,” then click “OK.”

You’ll notice that the only choices are “Friends” and “No One.” Surely mindful of the potential blowback, Facebook doesn’t even give you the option to let random strangers identify you based solely on your face—for the time being, anyway. And outside of a few Jeff Jarvis types, it’s hard to imagine a lot of people clamoring for it to be added. (That doesn’t mean Facebook will never do it, of course.)

In his post, Cluley wonders, “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?”

I assume the question is rhetorical. As I’ve argued before, Facebook has already done the hard work of making itself valuable to its users. Its big challenge now is to make its users valuable to its investors. We don’t know yet exactly how Facebook will monetize facial recognition—no doubt it will have to tread carefully. Regardless, it’s clear that making the feature “opt-out” will result in a much better and more extensive database than the company would get if it asked people to opt in, as Google+ does.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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