Germans Reopen Investigation on Facebook Privacy
Published: August 15, 2012
BERLIN — Data protection officials in Germany reopened an investigation into Facebook’s facial recognition technology Wednesday, saying that the social networking giant was illegally compiling a huge database of members’ photos without their consent.
The data protection commissioner in Hamburg, Johannes Caspar, suspended the inquiry in June, but said he reopened it after attempts to persuade Facebook to change its policies had failed.
“We have met repeatedly with Facebook but have not been able to get their cooperation on this issue, which has grave implications for personal data,” Mr. Caspar said in an interview.
The company’s use of analytic software to compile photographic archives of human faces, based on photos uploaded by Facebook’s members, has been problematic in Europe, where data protection laws require people to give their explicit consent to the practice.
Instead of using such an opt-in system, Facebook requires them to opt out instead.
The Hamburg regulator is demanding that Facebook destroy its photographic database of faces collected in Germany and revise its Web site to obtain the explicit consent of members before it creates a digital file based on the biometric data of their faces.
Mr. Caspar, who led Germany’s investigation into Google’s illegal collection of personal Internet data during its Street View project, said he had met with Facebook executives several times on the issue since he opened his investigation in June 2011, but closed it a year later when Facebook appeared to be complying with his demands.