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Consumer Groups Allege Facebook’s Facial-Recognition Feature Violates Privacy Law

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, Calif., April 18, 2017. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

A coalition of consumer watchdog groups filed a complaint with federal regulators Friday, alleging Facebook’s facial-recognition software violates privacy law.

The complaint, filed with the Federal Trade Commission, comes just days after the social-media giant revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-connected data-consulting firm, accessed the personal information of some 87 million users. The consumer groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, targets a feature that uses complex software to identify an individual’s face in a photograph before listing the person’s name in “tag suggestions.”

Facebook “routinely scans photos for biometric facial matches without the consent of the image subject,” the complaint alleges.

Facebook defended the feature in a statement provided to the Wall Street Journal in response to the complaint.

“Our face-recognition technology helps people manage their identity on Facebook and makes our features work better for people who are visually impaired,” said Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer. “People can choose whether or not to allow this technology and they can change their mind at any time. When someone has their setting turned off, we don’t use this technology to identify them in photos.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before lawmakers next week. The FTC has already opened an investigation into the leak, which was facilitated by a European professor who obtained the data lawfully before selling it to Cambridge Analytica. The complaint filed Friday calls on the FTC to investigate the facial-recognition feature, stop any privacy violations, and provide “appropriate remedies” to users.

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