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09 Jun 2011

Facebook has apologised for the way it rolled-out a new system that recognises users' faces.

The social network said that it should have done more to notify members about the global launch.

Its Tag Suggestions feature scans photos and automatically picks out existing friends.

Although users have the option to switch it off, some complained that they were not explicitly asked if they wanted it activated.

Facebook said that the system was intended to speed up the process of assigning a name to a picture, known as tagging.

It was introduced in the US in December 2010 but has only now been launched globally.

Graham Cluley, senior consultant with security firm Sophos, said that users' annoyance was less about the product's purpose than the manner in which it was made live.

"Once again Facebook seems to be sharing personal information by default," said Mr Cluley.

"Many people feel distinctly uncomfortable about a site like Facebook learning what they look like and using that information without their permission."
Essential tools

Mr Cluley explained that Tag Suggestions did not mean, as some have suggested, that users would be able to identify strangers from their photographs.

Social everything

Privacy experts have long argued that users should have more control over who is tagging them and have called for 'privacy by default' to be rolled out in all of Facebook's settings.

The company has a chequered history when it comes to such matters. In 2009, there was an outcry about the complexity of its privacy policy - which at that point was longer than the US Constitution.

Subsequent simplifications went some way towards placating campaigners.

An investigation by the Canadian privacy commissioner Jenny Stoddard concluded that Facebook had made vast improvements but warned the company that it would be monitoring future changes.

Ms Stoddard said that there was room for improvement and recommended making default settings for photo albums more restrictive.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has made no secret of the fact that he believes life on the web should be social "by default".


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