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Germany Says Facebook's Facial Recognition Is Illegal 278

Posted by samzenpus
from the pictures-of-you dept.
fysdt writes "Although we think it's generally a pretty nifty feature, valid concerns over the misuse of Facebook's auto-recognition tagging have lead Germany to ban it entirely. That's right — Facebook in its current state is now illegal. The German government, which possesses perhaps the world's most adamant privacy laws as a result of postwar abuse, considers Facebook's facial recognition a violation of 'the right to anonymity.'"
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Germany Says Facebook's Facial Recognition Is Illegal

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  • GO GERMANS (Score:5, Funny)

    by tenshihan (571181) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @10:08PM (#36981158)
    That shit is orwellian in how scary it is. You there, in 12b. Do more push-ups. Your facebook photos are getting fatter.
    • Re:GO GERMANS (Score:4, Informative)

      by bonch (38532) * on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @11:26PM (#36981718)

      It should be noted that German investigators were also the ones who caused Google to admit their four years of Street View data-snooping.

      • Re:GO GERMANS (Score:5, Informative)

        by drolli (522659) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @02:38AM (#36982754) Journal

        It should be noted how that works. In Germany every institution which processes personal data has to have a "Datenschutzbeauftragter" (Personal privacy protection responsible), ans this since the early 90s (as far as i remember). And there are one of these for each of the Countries in Germany.

        As fas as i understand the west German strong movement and awareness for the issue arose in 1987 census, which caused a lot of work for the courts and polarized the population against government data collection. Before that the "Rasterfahndung" (a sieving of registration office and other data to find terrorism suspects) in the 1970s deepened the split between the different political views in Germany (IMHO prolonging the support for the terroristic "red army fraction" in the population). About former East Germany it can only be said that people who were spied upon all the time and having disadvantaged in life if saying privately the wrong thing may not feel very well about being tracked.

        Last but not least one of the first large-scale usage of automated population databases (on Hollerith puchcards) in Germany was the organization of the Holocaust.

        All these are good reasons that Germany should be extra-careful about data collections. And germans should be, too, but every time i stand in the shop at the cashier is am asked if i use a customer point card (which then would probably allow the company behind to correlate my buying of underwear with the books i buy).

        I for my part can only say that i am lucky that i forbid even friends to put photos of me to an uncontrolled space in the Internet. There is only a

        • As fas as i understand the west German strong movement and awareness for the issue arose in 1987 census, which caused a lot of work for the courts and polarized the population against government data collection.

          To add to that, the German Supreme Court's ("Bundesverfassungsgericht", abr. "BVerG") ruling on the 1987 census establishet a new constitutional right for German citiziens: Informational Self-Determination ("Informationelle Selbstbestimmung"). It basically says: You - and only you - have got the rig

    • GameboyRMH Likes Germany's privacy laws.

  • by kasnol (210803) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @10:15PM (#36981220) Homepage

    Finally someone recognizes the right of "not being recognized without consent".

    • by EnempE (709151)
      I recognize the right of others to not recognize without consent.
    • by xenobyte (446878)

      Finally someone recognizes the right of "not being recognized without consent".

      Precisely, and that's the problem.

      If Facebook's feature is illegal, so is any and all other form of random recognition. If you meet someone by chance on the street, you are not allowed to recognize this person. Not even in your mind. Well, unless you get approval in advance. But in order to do that you have to recognize and initiate contact, and you're not allowed to recognize without prior consent...

      Am I the only one to think that the law in its interpretation in relation to Facebook is stupid? - because u

      • It's not so much the recognition itself it's the fact that FB stores that information and let's others, who do not know you, "recognise" you.

      • by mcvos (645701)

        Are you arguing that computers should have the same rights as people?

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @10:17PM (#36981240)

    The whole damn site is a privacy violation. I don't even use FB and I know that there are photos of me floating around on there, tagged by my so-called "friends." Short of being a hermit, I have no way to stop people from uploading data that identifies me to a site that makes money by exploiting that knowledge to sell shit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kevinmenzel (1403457)

      Tags not linked to an account cannot be searched. They don't link to anything. You can't even see all the photos in an album with the same unlinked tag. It hardly identifies you, because as far as I can tell, they don't even try to assume unlinked tags are related to each other in any way, even if the text is the same. I've seen worse affronts to privacy in my life.

      • Totally wrong. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Facebook is a data-mining and advertising company. They can and will sell all that information any time they feel like it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MacTO (1161105)

      I'm sorry, but I whole heartedly disagree.

      You don't use Facebook because you see it as a privacy violation. That's perfectly fine, and I'll respect you for that.

      What I do disagree with is the "my so-called 'friends'" comment. If they snagged a photo of you, they probably did so because you interacted with them. At that point, what you do is public knowledge. The degree to which it is public depends upon the context and your friends. If they snapped a photo of you while you were walking down the street,

      • by HellYeahAutomaton (815542) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @10:57PM (#36981484)

        If they snapped a photo of you while you were walking down the street, deal with it because that is a public space and anyone could have done that.

        The problem here is how people will deal with it:
        a) The native American who doesn't want their soul stolen.
        b) The wanna-be fashion diva who claims you didn't get their release, and you are stealing their IP, livelihood, etc.
        c) Or the guy who just wants to kick your ass because he doesn't want photos around that he didn't consent.

        People in general have a reasonable expectation of privacy everywhere they go despite what all of the social media douchebags think. When you click that photo, you best be sure you know how to defend yourself, because you do not know how people are going to react.

        • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

          You have no expectation privacy walking down a street in the UK...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bing Tsher E (943915)

        Get a clue. It isn't as much the presence of the photos on FB that Grandparent is objecting to. It's the tagging of the photo by friends.

        Sure, any photo taken in public is 'public knowledge.' But photos taken in public by strangers aren't captioned. And it isn't being 'fanatical about privacy' to not want captioned photos of yourself out there beyond your control. That's the entire fricking point about the Facial Recognition deal. It renders the captions world-searchable to a degree that was unthinkab

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MacTO (1161105)

          I can sort of see your point, and I also think that it's irrelevant. I mean yeah, it's kinda scary that someone can take a photo and attach a name to it only to have someone else take that photo and that name to attach that name to another photo. And that other person may be stalking you for any nefarious reason.

          The thing is, it happens anyhow. People started identifying you the first day you went to school, the teacher called your name and you said, "here." Some of the kids who were in the classroom wh

          • by Pieroxy (222434) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @02:09AM (#36982630) Homepage

            You are missing the point by about a hundred thousand miles. What happens in real life cannot be cross connected and searched on in a fraction of a second. What computers brought to the picture is this ability. Cross the social security database with Facebook and Google databases and you've got a tool that is all dictators wet dreams.

            Of course, nothing more than being recognized in the street. Except it is a lot more.

            In France, we have a state-backed organism that basically prevents any private database from using a key from another database. It also forces companies to delete or update your account if you wish (it's the law that YOU have control over YOUR data even if it's in some companies database.)

            It's a bit harder to build databases. Sure, using the SSN to identify everyone resolves a lot os issues, but that's strictly forbidden. As a result, identity theft is a concept that doesn't exist in France.

            The fact that anyone can recognize you in the street is *not* equivalent to random people tagging you on Facebook.

          • by adri (173121) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @02:11AM (#36982644) Homepage Journal

            It's not just the "likeness", it also includes:

            * what you were wearing;
            * where you were;
            * what your current physiological state is (drunk, high, etc);
            * who you were with
            * what your current mental state is (happy, sad, etc);

            All of this and more can be gleaned from these photos.

            You may not object to this, but then people can start using this to tie together where people were at certain times. For example, you could have your photo from a party added to a database of other people at the same party, tied together not only by the photo album, but the photo date/time, the photo GPS location, shared information about where other people in the photo were, information gleaned from the background of the photo.. soon you're tracking where people are, what people are doing and who they associate with, all from a set of loosely-tied together photos tagged with face identification.

            It's going on now. It's not affecting you, because you're likely a white dude in the united states. When its being publicly used by governments wishing to oppress people - then you may stand up and pay attention. When people start uploading photoshopped versions of photos to "establish" someone was at a certain location, thus tainting them in a way that gets said oppressive government to nab them .. who's to say this hasn't yet happened?

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @11:44PM (#36981840)

        If they snagged a photo of you, they probably did so because you interacted with them. At that point, what you do is public knowledge.

        Our law disagrees. Actually, even taking a picture of someone (safe celebrities known to the law as "people of public interest") is not permitted without his or her explicit consent. Publishing this picture in whatever way requires consent again, and permitting the former does not imply permitting the latter in the slightest.

        It's quite similar in Germany, btw.

        • by mysidia (191772) *

          Our law disagrees. Actually, even taking a picture of someone (safe celebrities known to the law as "people of public interest") is not permitted without his or her explicit consent.

          Actually... in US states it is "permitted", generally. If you are on public property, you can in general photograph anything or anyone you ordinarily observe. There is nothing to prevent that. Even if the subject doesn't want their picture to be known to the public. If they happen to walk by or through the viewfinde

      • by vux984 (928602)

        If they snapped a photo of you while you were walking down the street, deal with it because that is a public space and anyone could have done that.

        And in isolation nobody gives a shit about that photo.

        Its that everything is aggregated an linked together. If my friend or my neighbor takes a photo of me walking down the street, and its uploaded to flicker as part of some random "what i saw today" album that's entirely reasonable.

        If everyone in the city has their web cams pointed at the street, all the streams

    • by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @11:02PM (#36981522)

      Ditto. And I get constant e-mails from Facebook because my friends decided to import their address books and now Facebook knows me. What's amazing is that my dead uncle who I only met once in person while living, his account still exists and Facebook keeps telling me he "wants to reconnect" with me. Yeah, I'm never signing up.

      • There's a link at the bottom of those emails which tells facebook never to email you again. I clicked on it a few years ago, and so far they seem to have respected it.
      • by mcvos (645701)

        What's amazing is that my dead uncle who I only met once in person while living, his account still exists and Facebook keeps telling me he "wants to reconnect" with me.

        That's sick. But also an opportunity to shame Facebook into cleaning up their stupid spam. Claiming that specific people want to reconnect with you when they don't, is deception, and I think it should be illegal for companies to do that. They're basically using your dead uncle to advertise their service. And considering he's dead, it's pretty obvious he didn't give permission for that.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Can you use DMCA method to take down the photos.? Obviously, you have to prove that the photos. contain you to the authorities. :(

      • by mysidia (191772) *

        Obviously, you have to prove that the photos. contain you to the authorities. :(

        Just because the photo contains an image of you does not give you any copyright ownership.
        Unless specified otherwise by a written agreement the photographer in general owns the right to the photos. You would also need to prove you created the scene/captured the picture, so have a copyright claim, which is quite difficult if you were a subject of the picture.

        This kind of thing comes up a lot when people employ the services of

    • This is why I don't have freinds. Hell, apparently I can't even spell the word.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bonch (38532) *

      Slashdot on Google: "Google is awesome! Google+ already has 25 million users. So what if your info is out there, you give out your info with everything you do. It's not a big deal. Snooping passwords and emails with Street View vans? Your fault for not securing your network! Excuse me while I send more private messages through Gmail to be indexed for advertisers."

      Slashdot on Facebook: "The whole damn site is a privacy violation! People are doing things with my pictures without my knowing, and I have no way

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ignavus (213578)

      The whole damn site is a privacy violation.

      You could say that about the entire Internet.

  • ...you could just turn that feature off.

  • it is comforting to hear this while the rest of the world it trying to outlaw anonymity on the net.

  • Postwar abuse? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tibit (1762298)

    The German government, which possesses perhaps the world's most adamant privacy laws as a result of postwar abuse [...]

    Could someone please explain what is meant/implied by "postwar abuse" here? Post WW1? Sorry, I don't get it :(

    • Could someone please explain what is meant/implied by "postwar abuse" here? Post WW1? Sorry, I don't get it :(

      Post WW2:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi [wikipedia.org]

  • by mseeger (40923) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @10:46PM (#36981416)

    Just for starters: No court has ruled yet.

    There has been an opinion from the germanys chief privacy officer, but this is not a court ruling or something else the police could enforce. Though he is likely to be right (in terms of european and german law), this FB face recognition is not officialy illegal.

  • I realize that Slashdotters in the main have a libertarian-ish bent, but you guys really need to understand that when these Web 2.0 moguls stand up and say "privacy is dead" they do have a leg to stand on. An awful lot of people the world over, especially in the US, do not fetishize anonymity to anywhere near the extent that you do. Mostly people don't give a damn because they never do anything anonymously themselves, and then on the rare occasion when they have to conjure up an opinion on the subject they'

    • by hjf (703092) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @11:12PM (#36981624) Homepage

      Stop confusing anonymity with privacy.

    • by bonch (38532) *

      Posting an anti-privacy rant with the name Schmidt was the first laugh. The second was your accusation that Slashdot is made up of libertarians. This community hates corporations and the free market.

      • Posting an anti-privacy rant with the name Schmidt was the first laugh.

        Wow. I don't know if that's supposed to be anti-Semitic or some kind of joke about Germany passing this law (I'm Irish-American).

        I'm about ready to get off this crazy train. Slashdot respects my privacy, so I can delete my account, right? OH WAIT

        • Posting an anti-privacy rant with the name Schmidt was the first laugh.

          Wow. I don't know if that's supposed to be anti-Semitic or some kind of joke about Germany passing this law (I'm Irish-American).

          It's a comment about the former CEO Google, a company that has made its money by harvesting huge amounts of personal information. Schmidt famously said:

          If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place

        • by mcvos (645701)

          Posting an anti-privacy rant with the name Schmidt was the first laugh.

          Wow. I don't know if that's supposed to be anti-Semitic or some kind of joke about Germany passing this law (I'm Irish-American).

          It's not. It's a joke about Google's previous CEO, who has also declared privacy dead.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Privacy, more often than not, really is a shield for misconduct.

      You've got it completely backwards. Privacy is a shield against misconduct.

      Privacy is what you have when you say only to a small group of friends, instead of broadcasting to the whole world, "let's go camping next weekend." And the misconduct that privacy protects you from, is someone who isn't in that group, inferring that next weekend is a particularly low-risk time to burgle you house.

      Privacy is what you have when you securely exchange log

    • An awful lot of people the world over, especially in the US, do not fetishize anonymity to anywhere near the extent that you do.

      The article was about Germany. Some parts of Germany have seen what large scale intrusion is like and are keen to avoid the same folly twice.

      Privacy, more often than not, really is a shield for misconduct.

      That is unmitigated bullshit, you're just rolling out the old "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" line.

      Privacy, more often than not, really is a shield for m

    • by sphealey (2855)

      > An awful lot of people the world over, especially in the US, do not
      > fetishize anonymity to anywhere near the extent that you do.

      Perhaps you could expand a little on why you chose the word 'fetishize' in that sentence instead of, say, 'value'.

      sPh

  • ... since it can do a pretty decent job at identifying people from their appearance.
    • Why are you intentionally being obtuse? This is about automated, mass identification for profit without a clear way to disable it, opt-out, or delete the data, nor do people really know who ends up with this information and what those buyers can do with it. You could say that's a problem with every single aspect of Facebook. However, people choose to put that info up (perhaps uninformed and without legal understanding of the terms of service but I digress) whereas this is automatic.

      Anyway, I look forward to

      • by mark-t (151149)

        I was being sarcastic.

        While it's not as automated or public when it's individual people realizing who it is that they are seeing, Facebook is still doing the exact same thing as what even tiny infants are capable of - recognizing faces of people. If facebook should be outlawed for having software that does that, then by extension, it should be illegal for humans to do the same thing.

        Of course, it's absurd to outlaw human thought. But if human thought can't be outlawed, why should emulating it?

        • by EvanED (569694)

          If facebook should be outlawed for having software that does that, then by extension, it should be illegal for humans to do the same thing.

          By that logic, because the military is allow to possess nuclear weapons, so should you be.

          Of course, the circumstances are far different in each case, just as they are with Facebook. I'm not totally on Germany's side here... privacy nowadays is a really thorny issue.

          Take GPS tracking. Should cops be allowed to stick a GPS tracker on your car just for the heck of it? Imag

          • by mark-t (151149)
            I don't want to go there... I just strongly object to the notion that it is acceptable to prohibit or limit computers from performing what parallels, mimics, or otherwise effectively amounts to mental steps that can also be taken by a human being (albeit perhaps just not as conveniently or quickly) on nothing more than the basis that those very steps are perceived as some sort of rights violation (while at the same time not perceived as such when they are done by human beings).
            • It's not really about limiting computers or their programmers per se. I see it as limiting the abuse a person or a corporation could do. Sort of like how high frequency trading could be done by a guy on the floor. He wouldn't come close by multiple magnitudes in comparison to a computer but he could still pull off trades here and there. One guy buying and reselling stocks for a $0.04 return per stock is one thing and banks of computers doing this to every stock trade, millions of times a second, built right

      • This is about automated, mass identification for profit without a clear way to disable it, opt-out, or delete the data, nor do people really know who ends up with this information and what those buyers can do with it.

        Account menu -> Privacy Settings -> Customize -> "Suggest photos of me to friends" Settings -> Disabled

        Seems pretty clear to me, as it is a logical progression through the menus and pages. It's not hard to find. It is easy to disable. It's probably already disabled for many people.

        And, at least on my account, it was disabled by default. i.e. As soon as I heard about this feature, I went immediately to my account privacy settings to turn it off and found that it was already turned off.

        • That's certainly nice of them (and quite unexpected from previous experience) to finally have some settings default to privacy. I would be interested to know if it stays that way the next time FB fiddles with the ToS or the privacy options. That's not minding the sheer number of privacy options and settings which makes all the harder for the less technically inclined to set correctly if they didn't give up immediately.

          The interesting thing to thing about, though, is how they know not to suggest you. To me,

          • That's certainly nice of them (and quite unexpected from previous experience) to finally have some settings default to privacy. I would be interested to know if it stays that way the next time FB fiddles with the ToS or the privacy options. That's not minding the sheer number of privacy options and settings which makes all the harder for the less technically inclined to set correctly if they didn't give up immediately.

            That's why I pretty much scramble for the privacy settings every time I see a news story about a new FaceBook feature. However, either a.) I've been lucky and they overlooked setting "on" as default for new features in my account or b.) they somehow actually take into account the privacy amount of current settings and make the new setting in line with that (e.g. if someone has everything shared with everyone, then the new thing defaults to "on", but if someone is like me and has things fairly well locked do

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2011 @12:02AM (#36981946)

    Amazing cars, unbelievable roads (with no speed limits in some cases!), good beer, good food, cool people, and a government that fights for its peoples privacy? When did moving to Germany become attractive? How did we in the US reverse our roles with the krauts?

    Deutschland über alles i'm afraid

  • by caitsith01 (606117) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @12:14AM (#36982006) Journal

    Not sure who the "we" is in the summary, but I don't know anyone who thinks the facial recognition feature is anything other than creepy.

  • If someone has a picture up there in which I can be recognized, but not tagged me in it, I'd never know. This feature will auto-tag me and presumably let me know just like any other tagging on Facebook. If I don't like the picture I can ask to have it removed. I can't do that if I don't know it's there.

    If people are concerned with pictures of them behaving stupidly, revealing infidelity and insurance scams (in relation to work related injuries) and similar, the advice is mind-numbingly simple: JUST DON'T DO

  • Not "banned". (Score:5, Informative)

    by Udo Schmitz (738216) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @01:43AM (#36982502) Journal

    From the original source (http://www.thelocal.de/sci-tech/20110803-36703.html):

    "Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data protection official, on Tuesday said the feature was a serious violation of people’s rights to determine what is done with their personal data. He added that German authorities would take quick legal action if Facebook did not comply with his demands.

    This could include fines of up to €300,000 ($426,000), Caspar said.

    “Should Facebook maintain the function, it must ensure that only data from persons who have declared consent to the storage of their biometric facial profiles be stored in the database,” he said."

    At the moment this is just an opinion of the appointed guy for data protection of the city state of Hamburg. Not even a minister/secretary. Although he certainly has a point and Facebook could be fined, Germany is not Iran. We don't just "ban" stuff.

  • by Tom (822) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @04:12AM (#36983148) Homepage Journal

    I don't defend our government much, in fact I think it's the current one is the worst this country has ever had (i.e. since WW2).

    So it's no surprise that I don't have to. The real truth is that the stupid government hasn't done anything. Including here.

    What has happened is that one of the privacy watchdogs (yes, we actually pay people to watch out for privacy invasions. Guess who they call out regularily? Yes, that's right, the government!) has raised the issue formally, declaring that in his opinion the facial recognition and some other features violate existing laws.

    That's got nothing to do with the government. In fact, if they had their way, we wouldn't be having this much privacy anymore, they've been undermining it for years.

    What it will go to if Facebook doesn't cave in is the courts.

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