Facebook has started testing a facial recognition system in Europe and the UK following a ban on the technology five years ago.
At the end of February, the social network said it would begin testing a new feature this week which lets users see photos in which they appear but are not tagged.
Facebook’s deputy chief privacy office later confirmed facial recognition is on the way to Europe and would be trialled before launch.
Facial recognition is already available in other countries but is currently blocked in the UK and other countries with the EU, although Facebook is due to roll it out later this year when new data protection regulations come into force.
Now a journalist working at Metro.co.uk has been told the feature will soon be added to his Facebook account.
Metro man Jimmy Nsubuga, who admitted he is tagged in a lot of other people’s photos during nights out, received a notification today telling him about the introduction of the technology.
If you were going to test a controversial facial recognition feature it would be sensible to try it out on someone who is clearly comfortable with being photographed and tagged.
The notification said: ‘We’re always working to make Facebook better, so we’re adding more ways to use face recognition besides just suggesting tags.’
‘You control face recognition. This setting is on, but you can turn it off at any time, which applies to features we may add later,’ it continued.
People in other nations outside the EU received the same notification last year and were also able to switch it off.
In May, users will be able to switch on the feature due to new rules being introduced as part of the General Data Protection Regulation, which governs the use of European citizens’ data.
Last week, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman told The Irish Times it would be available on an opt-in basis.
He said: ‘It’s been offered for quite some time in other parts of the world.
‘It’s had a positive response. We believe these features are very valuable.’
On February 28, the social network also said it would begin testing the features in Europe.
Facebook wrote: ‘Next week, we will roll out a limited test of some of the additional choices we’ll ask people to make as part of GDPR.
‘That means that some people will see information on Facebook about improved privacy controls, new features and more details on how our services work.
‘While everyone on Facebook in the EU will eventually hear from us about this, we’re starting by asking only a small percentage of people so that we can be sure everything is working properly.
‘First, the changes we’re testing will let people choose whether to enable facial recognition, which has previously been unavailable in the EU.’
It’s interesting to consider how a company like Facebook sweetens its rather creepy announcements.
First, it said facial recognition would stop ‘strangers using your photo’.
This will no doubt be welcomed by sensitive people and anti-troll campaigners, but it will also be useful to parents and teachers because it makes it easier to find and delete images of children which posted by bullies.
And no-one wants to see children bullied, so saving kids from torment is clearly a laudable ambition.
Facebook also said the feature would let people with visual impairments see who’s in a photo or video.
Again, this is an unimpeachable ambition. Who wouldn’t want to help out the blind?
But there is another side to facial recognition – and it’s up to you to decide whether you think the risks are worth the benefits.
If Facebook can see you in every photo you’re tagged in, it potentially has the ability to spy on your entire life.
Assuming the mania for taking photos of absolutely every moment of our waking lives continues, you are likely to be snapped dozens if not hundreds of times as you walk around a city.
If Facebook catches sight of you in people’s pictures and recognises your lovely face, it could take a guess at exactly what you’ve been up to – and then sell this information to advertisers.
You might literally never be able to do anything again without being seen by Zuckerberg’s computers.
There are also a few other pertinent facts to consider.
Mark Zuckerberg has been acting in a way which looks a lot like he’s planning to stand for President, although he’s denied it’s his ambition to win office.
Would you really want the government to see every single little moment of your existence?
His firm is also working on mind-reading technology capable of understanding the thoughts which rush through people’s brains and is rumoured to be building a gadget which resembles the telescreen of 1984, which lets Big Brother spy on and viciously brutalise and entire population.
Big Zucker’s device is said to be called Portal and will be fitted with microphones and facial recognition cameras.
Facebook will offer users the ability to switch the feature off – which is what we expect a lot of people to do.
Yesterday, The Drudge Report posted a headline which said: ‘Facebook cracking.’
It linked to a story on Fast Company which said users are now spending 24% less time on Facebook.
What will people think when their face appears in photos taken by other people? What if we start to get a bit freaked out when we realise Facebook has been following our every move?
If this spooks out enough people and they decide to leave Facebook, it could quickly become a Zuckpocalypse for the social network.
We have asked Facebook for comment.