Facebook Facial-Recognition App Launched in Europe
Facebook has launched its facial-recognition-powered photo-sharing app, called ‘Moments’, in the EU and Canada.
Facebook had earlier launched the app in some countries in 2015. However, it was withheld elsewhere because of local data privacy rules. The company has now developed a different version of the software to pass the restrictions.
The app groups together photos that feature the same friend or friends. It also makes it easy to share the pictures with them if they have installed the same app.
In the original version of the app, the snaps are automatically tagged with people’s names, because Facebook matches them to other photos in its wider database.
However, data protection watchdogs in the EU and Canada were apprehensive that citizens would not be able to opt out of the process.
To address the problem, ‘Moments’ now links together photos of similar-looking faces but requires the user to identify who they are.
Facebook ‘Moments’ Allows Private’ Sharing
Facebook has not revealed the number of people who have signed up to ‘Moments’ since its release on the US’s iOS and Android stores 11 months ago.
“Our primary purpose is to solve a problem that we know that people have, where they never get the photos that their friends take of them,” the app’s product manager Will Ruben told the BBC.
“We view that as a pretty different type of sharing than might happen on Facebook, where people share photos more broadly with a large group of friends or even publicly.
“Moments is closer to the type of sharing that might happen these days on Whatsapp or other [private] messaging apps – but it places the photos together into a collection.”
Facebook disclosed that 600 million pictures have been shared via the app so far.
Facebook Adapts To Privacy Rules
Even though Facebook has adapted the app to comply with EU and Canada’s privacy rules, it said that there would be some processing that will need to be done beyond the user’s handset.
“A cropped low-resolution of the photo is uploaded [to the cloud] so that your phone gets a numerical representation of that face,” Mr Ruben said.
“But that number is not stored anywhere on our servers, and it is only used to compare against the other photos on your phone.
“No comparison is being done on the server.”
Copies of the images are stored at Facebook’s data centres when they are shared with someone else.
“Facebook has notified this office of the Moments app and advised us that within the EU version of the Moments app they do not control or initiate the use of any feature recognition technology,” said a spokeswoman for the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.
“Consideration of this development is ongoing and we will more closely look at the technical details of the app following its release.”
Mr Ruben said Facebook believed the original version of Moments remained the “best version”, but the new edition was “easy to use.
“You don’t need to label all the faces on your phone,” he said.
“The idea is to share with the people closest to you, so usually it’s just the top 10 people or so.”