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Germany: Facebook must destroy its facial recognition database (arstechnica.com)
196 points by smartician on Aug 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 132 comments



It's fascinating to watch how tech companies react to restrictive EU privacy laws. Many of the EU requirements (e.g. 'right to be forgotten', mandatory opt-in for cookies) could become a real hindrance for companies that want to build intelligent services and minimized user experiences.

Call me crazy, but it seems like when you get to use a free service or website that costs many millions of dollars to develop, giving the company access to your data is a fairly small price to pay.

I'm waiting for one of these legal actions to cause a company like Facebook to just shut down their service in the local area, and leave a landing page with the email addresses of all the politicians who provoked the outage.


>Call me crazy, but it seems like when you get to use a free service or website that costs many millions of dollars to develop, giving the company access to your data is a fairly small price to pay.

Except I don't use Facebook. I don't use any Google service beyond the occasional visit to Youtube, either. They still try to get my data. The amount of filters, blacklists and blockers you need to be safe from these leeches is utterly ridiculous. This has nothing to do with a free internet anymore.

If you consider handing you're data over to a company a "payment" for their services, then what Facebook, Google and all these other Big Data companies are doing to the people who don't use their services, yet are still tracked, is nothing short of theft, and this needs to stop.

Besides, most people aren't even really aware of this "payment". They can't make an informed choice - and it's of course not in the interest of Google or Facebook to educate their users about this, even though it's their responsility, nay, duty - and that needs to be made the law, because otherwise they sure as hell won't move a finger.

And frankly, I don't give even half a shit for "intelligent services and minimized user experiences" if they come at the cost of essential liberties. I don't think I need to reproduce Franklin's famous quote here - it applies to convenience just the same as to safety.


I'm waiting for one of these legal actions to cause a company like Facebook to just shut down their service in the local area, and leave a landing page with the email addresses of all the politicians who provoked the outage.

People in the EU (and Germany in particular) don't care for massive privately held databases that can be used to target individuals. They have had enough bad experiences with secret police forces, and that's why there are strict limits on data gathering and retention.


> People in the EU (and Germany in particular) ... have had enough bad experiences with secret police forces,

How many of these secret police forces were private? How many were govt police forces?

Politicians grandstand about the evils of companies, but the actual killing and torturing people is done by semi-popular govts.


> but the actual killing and torturing people is done by semi-popular govts.

Like the Mafia and Church of Scientology. And Blackwater. The East India Trading Company, or Coca Cola assassinating Labor Leaders in Columbia. IBM helped the Nazi's build the accounting machinery used by the concentration camps, requiring IBM to be well aware what was going on.

In some cases Corporations pay governments to do their dirty work. Sometimes the Government pays the corporation. Other times the corporation becomes the government. Sometimes the corporation just doesn't care. Regardless, can we please put aside this fiction that all the serious evils of the world are perpetrated by governments despite the best efforts of angelic businessmen? Pretending that as long as we keep the government in check all will be fine is idiocy and ignorance of the highest order. Excess power in any concentrated location is potentially problematic, regardless if it's held by 'private' or 'public' sectors. Those are labels for groups of people, nothing more.


"A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic"

> Regardless, can we please put aside this fiction that all the serious evils of the world are perpetrated by governments despite the best efforts of angelic businessmen?

No one is suggesting that business is angelic.

However, whenever someone points out that govts kill lots of people, govt apologists leap up to say "corps have killed too", ignoring the differenc in orders of magnitude.

Mote, beam and all that.

> Those are labels for groups of people, nothing more.

Not so fast. Those groups have very different behaviors and motivations.

The worst that you can say about a company is that it will try to make money from you and might take some action to stop you from interfering with its attempts to make money.

Govts regularly commit mass murder for basically no reason.


> Govts regularly commit mass murder for basically no reason.

Govts have reasons, one of the most common is to protect or improve the status quo for the leaders. Not very different from companies.


> Not very different from companies.

You're ignoring the orders of magnitude.

Scale is a difference that you have to ignore to apologize for govts.


I agree and worse is that most a lot of them actually believe 'the people' actually have a say in this while they don't. Well, at least not with voting. That was not the point though; governments are not doing the stuff they do without reason; there is a reason. It's just not what you would expect and hope from something as massive as a government.


"Politicians grandstand about the evils of companies, but the actual killing and torturing people is done by semi-popular govts."

Well, that's true, and is the reason you can't trust facebook, as the patriot act gives the US government all the data that private American companies have, without you being notified.


The distinction you're making between private and public is hardly relevant. The gestapo, stasi and FBI are, for all intents and purposes, not very different from private companies trying to perpetuate their own success and maximize their power/profits. The only major difference is that governments own a monopoly on the use of force, making them slightly more dangerous in a physical sense - but not more dangerous in a general 'can cause us a lot of harm' sense (especially since governments are easier to topple than private companies).


What does "private" mean in this scenario? In most dictatorships, secret police forces may be run by the state, but they serve the private interests that run the state.


> they serve the private interests that run the state.

Oh really? What private interests ran the USSR? China under Mao? The killing fields of Cambodia.

10s of millions of people killed....


I think you are very wrong about that.

Populist politicians, confused old people and outraged nerds don’t care for massive, privately held databases. The rest do.


If the politicians are both populist and successful that suggests their platform is supported by a wide swath of the population.

It is quite possible that everyone in Germany is either a confused old person, an outraged nerd, or a populist politician trying to cash in on their senses. But I doubt that's exactly what you meant. ;-)


> They have had enough bad experiences with secret police forces, and that's why there are strict limits on data gathering and retention.

Ha ha. The successors to the Stasi are meant to ignore these laws. The purpose is to keep the technologies out of the hands of the Hans Q. Public.

Remember, the Stasi were first and foremost a populist movement, just like the Nazis before them. You don't get an informer in every family by tyrrany, you get it by willing collaboration, and the Germans have an authority worshipping streak a mile wide.


Remember, the Stasi were first and foremost a populist movement, just like the Nazis before them. You don't get an informer in every family by tyrrany, you get it by willing collaboration

what? you're talking about eastern germany, with the wall that kept people from running away.

the Germans have an authority worshipping streak a mile wide.

what about the americans who move to berlin because they can hardly breathe in the USA anymore? you're operating under obsolete assumptions.


You're coming from the assumption that Germany got better rather than the US got worse. There are still many freer countries than Germany.


"You're coming from the assumption that Germany got better"

No, I live in it. And it did. Just think the green or now the pirate party - unthinkable decades ago.

But where did I claim Germany is super free and the best, ever? I was simply responding the claim that Germans are authoritarian/obedient by nature - which, ironically, strikes me as racist - and was taking a wild jab, hoping the poster I replied to might come from the US, and simply said Germany is way more free (and dare I say, laid back) in some respects than the US currently is.

That's all, you can dispute that if you want; but how do "all other countries" come into play here?


What I was inferring from your comment was

What about the americans who move to berlin because they can hardly breathe in the USA anymore? Since this happens, it shows that Berlin is a haven for people who feel oppressed.

That was my interpretation. You also said that the assumption of German strictness was outdated, implying that Germans have become more relaxed. Working with that interpretation, my point was that maybe Germany didn't get better, but the US got worse which by default makes Germany look better. I then implied that using Berlin as the capital of the free doesn't work, since there are more free places even in the EU. Basically: maybe Germany hasn't become more relaxed, but other places have become more strict. If I was looking to escape the tyranny of the US, I wouldn't think of going back home to Germany. The authoritarian nature of the US vs Germany reside on two entirely different and almost incomparable planes.


> The authoritarian nature of the US vs Germany reside on two entirely different and almost incomparable planes.

The US is not authoritarian, we are governed by a coalition of tyrants that have coopted the lawful government. The pendulum will swing back any year now when the shiny wears off Washington, D.C.

As for the other commenter's claim about Berlin, imagine this thought experiment: the self-proclaimed Messiah moves to Berlin, marries a gaggle of 16 year old brides, gets them all pregnant, and homeschools the offspring in riflery and Scientology. Would German officials have a violent allergic reaction? Yes! Because it goes outside the privileges they have deigned to grant their flocks. In the US that would be considered bizarre but not a proper matter for state intervention.


> it seems like when you get to use a free service or website that costs many millions of dollars to develop, giving the company access to your data is a fairly small price to pay.

Unfortunately, using Facebook is hardly a free choice anymore. I personally don't use it, but I have no delusions about the cost that comes with resisting. You miss out on events, news and connections. And because of Facebook's ubiquity, no other social network is a complete substitute. Some employers and dating advice columnists even find it "suspicious" when someone isn't on Facebook:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/08/06/beware-te...

So there's a lot of pressure to use it. And while you can choose not to have an account, you can't choose to live in a world where Facebook doesn't exist. Even if you never touch the site, people can take photos of you and write status updates about you and post them there, and that affects your privacy. A sociologist I follow has written a good (slightly more theoretical) analysis of this problem:

http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2012/05/21/a-new-priv...

As for giving away your data being a "small price to pay", we'll have to disagree on that. Some people value their privacy more than others. And due to the above, we're limited in our ability to make an individual decision to preserve that privacy. Hence, I applaud the strict EU privacy laws and wish we had stronger privacy protections in the US as well.


The laws are "restrictive" in the sense that they don't like opt-out mechanisms. They place few if any restrictions what a company can do if the user actively opts in.

If the personal data price is such a small to pay, convincing your users of that shouldn't be too much of a problem?


"I'm waiting for one of these legal actions to cause a company like Facebook to just shut down their service in the local area, and leave a landing page with the email addresses of all the politicians who provoked the outage."

Hahaha. You are thinking like an American, not as an European.

If facebook is shut down in Europe you will be surprised at the outcome. People here trust the government and distrust companies. In USA it is the opposite.

email addresses of the politicians? :-DDDDDDDDDDDDD

No, seriously, you need to live some time in Europe to understand the culture here.


As someone who lives in Europe, I would like to point out that the above most definitely doesnt speak for the entire continent.


Of course, but it is true that people in Europe tend to trust their governments more than private companies.


As a european, I trust neither. Trust? I mean really, one of them is only caring about monetizing everything possible, the other has its own (sometimes mysterious) motives, why should I trust anyone but my friends and family? I think the question itself is just a play on emotions, people with bad experiences with either is going to say they trust the other more, but all in all I don't think any sensible person trusts the government or companies in the true meaning of the word.


As someone who lived both in Europe (in 2 countries) and the USA (but I'm European), this is of course a very broad statement but one that is generally true.

The average American distrust his government far more than an average "European".


>People here trust the government and distrust companies.

Still haven't learned much have they.


I think they have. I elect the government, I don't elect companies.


> giving the company access to your data is a fairly small price to pay.

If we're going to think of privacy invasions as "fees" for the service, let's consider another scenario. Imagine facebook was a paid service and you gave them your credit card. You had already consented to a price of $3, however without telling you they added a new service and changed the price to $5. Automatically you're billed for the bigger amount next month. If you don't want the new service you have to opt-out. Would that be equally okay?


It may be true that FB is making more use of the data than you might have anticipated, but you can argue that's also the risk you take when you use a free service (do you ever really know the full extent a service will use your information, despite what they say in their lengthy EULA?). The funny thing is that in many cases, the user gains more value from the system than originally expected too, due to novel applications of existing data (e.g. timeline).


I'm waiting for one of these legal actions to cause a company like Facebook to just shut down their service in the local area, and leave a landing page with the email addresses of all the politicians who provoked the outage.

This would be really interesting. But judging by the notorious German copycat startup industry, they would most likely develop a replica of that site.

On a more serious note: I noticed recently that a massive amount of music related videos are blocked on YouTube for all German IP addresses. Instead they show a notice, that the German music-rights organization is preventing this video to be played, i.e. Google has already entered the naming and shaming game. But there seems to be relatively little outcry and people apparently just accept it.

I guess people from outside of the US are already used to the fact that US based companies are often not acting in their best interest.


Errm, you do realise the "local area" of the European Union comprises of 27 members states/countries and according to Wikipedia:

With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants, or 7.3% of the world population, the EU, in 2011, generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 17.6 trillion US dollars, representing approximately 20% of the global GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.

I'd like to see which company has the balls to pull out of that market.


Absolutely, thought about this a lot. With the right apologetic message I suspect you'd cause outrage. It's a fine line, though.


Many of the EU requirements (e.g. 'right to be forgotten', mandatory opt-in for cookies)

Just to note: The "right to be forgotten" is not EU law yet. There are some changes to the EU Data Protection law coming up, that's one of them, but it's not EU law now.


"I'm waiting for one of these legal actions to cause a company like Facebook to just shut down their service in the local area, and leave a landing page with the email addresses of all the politicians who provoked the outage."

Same here! They'd be heroes overnight.


As a German, i'm glad that our governments care about privacy laws. Besides the ridiculousness of the Street View debacle most privacy laws in Germany are right where they should be, bordering on not strong enough.

Facebook clearly behaved intransparent and outright unfriendly with regards to data protection, therefor its fair to come down that hard on the service.


Or many people would just go "meh, guess I'll use something else then". Facebook is just not that big of a deal to most people, it's pretty easy to provide a similar service. Facebook knows this and wouldn't take a chance alienating the whole European population, many of whom are already itching to switch to something else, just looking for an excuse.


exactly. let's face it (hurr hurr), the one big asset of facebook.. is that everybody uses it.

or can you name even just one other feature nobody else does better (and please don't let it be farmville). I couldn't think of one so far, any input would be appreciated..


does anybody do all of the features of Facebook as well as Facebook does?


well, if they don't do a single feature right, then of course the sum of that isn't great either. so far nobody mentioned a single thing facebook is good at..


Who? The politicians?


Indeed, 17 year olds don't vote in most countries. Their inconvenience is of little concern to me.


It is the epiotome of arrogance to serve your own interests by trampling those of others, regardless of how annoying you find their demographic to be. By this attitude, 17 year olds are perfectly within their rights to say "their privacy is of little concern to me" about your age group, and act accordingly.


sorry, didn't mean it in a "racist" or "doesn't affect me" kind of way, just that they are minor children, and will thank the adults later for taking care of their long term interests.


I'm 28, but on behalf of all those who are legally powerless and who have other people 'looking after their longterm best interests' we'd prefer you didn't.


Yeah, I get that from one of my teenage daughters, as well. Alas, it's the one who most needs to listen up.

At 28, you darn well better be taking care of yourself. However, I suspect you have not had to deal with adolescent children yet.


It's one thing to take care of your own children. It's entirely another to change the law to "take care of" everyone else's. The second requires far greater justification and consent from those who would be affected by the law (those 17 year olds who are a year away from voting, for example).


Perhaps, but I'd wager that the copyright lobby uses the same justification for their own anti-consumer actions.

I believe one must be careful not to use the same means, even though improving the privacy of Facebook users and non-users alike is a worthy end.


In all of Austria and already some parts of Germany, the voting age is 16.


I wonder how the German data protection office might respond if they realized Google probably have the largest database of images in the world, is trying to put cameras in everyone's glasses, and already owns 2 face recognition companies (Neven Vision, Pittpatt)


The tone of your comment implies that you think that Germany is targetting Facebook unfairly. Read up on what happened with Google Street View in Germany.

This is not a German issue anyway. It's an EU issue. And the problem is companies compiling data on users without their permission (opt out rather than opt in).

If users aren't willing to opt in to your data collection, then you're not offering something worth the trade. Facebook and Google rely on peoples ignorance to make money.


I can't talk for the rest of the EU but in Germany privacy issues tend to get blown out of proportion - the media coverage during the street view controversy was rather ridiculous. Average, non-technical people almost thought Google would drive through their backyards.

It's ok to disagree with Google's and Facebook's behaviour and it's ok to take measures but I wish the media would focus on balanced and objective coverage, educating people rather than calling for drama and hysteria.


"In Germany privacy issues tend to get blown out of proportion."

Gosh, I wonder why? I mean, what is it about German history - in particular - that would trigger such powerful negative reactions to the technical foundations of a surveillance state?

Hummm....

Nope, no idea.


As I assume you're referring to the 3rd Reich, let me add that you don't even have to go back to the 30s for this - the DDR had a surveillance state courtesy of the Stasi until the wall came down.


Also consider that Kaiser Wilhelm basically denounced civil liberties as an excuse for Serbia not reining in the press following Archduke Ferdinand's assassination.

There's no reason to take this as referring specifically to the 3rd Reich. Germany has a relatively recent tradition of civil liberties with a lot of abuses still in living memory, and many more abuses in the recent history books.


I don't think this is necessarily related to the Third Reich, but more about common sense. How much should a private company with the reach of Facebook and Google should collect about their users?


@thedaniel has it exactly right. The really dark shadow looming in German imaginations is the Stasi's.

Keep in mind, if you were 18 when the Wall came down, you're only 41 today, so these aren't vague or abstract fears. You actually grew up with the world's most terrifying police force running microphones into your apartment. To give you some idea of how pervasive they really were, the Stasi had one informer per 6.5 people, which is practically a spy in every family. By comparison, the Gestapo employed one secret policeman per 2,000 people.

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

As the article above notes, "It was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world." And no, you don't go from escaping that to ignorant bliss in half a generation.


Well how do you think common sense is formed? Seems like years of Nazi and Soviet control would push common sense in that direction.


Germany had a green party movement from the early 80s.


You mean West Germany. We're talking about East Germany.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Germany

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Germany


As much as any private individual has the right to collect. No more, no less.


This is called stalking, and I would imagine that there is a law against it.


I'd be surprised if stalking laws don't require specific individual intent. Do you have a citation?


I am from germany and grew up in the former DDR - however I can clearly see the difference between a government secretly using extensive surveillance to control people and a feature in a service that everyone is free to opt-out of (street view, not facebook photo tags - you should really have to opt-in to the latter). My argument is not about agreeing or disagrreing with street view though. I'm just disappointed with the widespread misinformation that surrounded the whole issue - some people literally assumed that street view would be a live feed into their homes. The media should have done a better job at educating people.

Generally there is a lot of bias against Google over here. This goes as far as publishers and newspapers heavy lobbying for a law that would force Google to pay for indexing content excerpts in Google News. And they almost got away with it. Of course as a publisher you were able to configure how and if Google should index your content (Headline only, headline + excerpt, full content or no indexing at all). However as you can imagine publishers weren't interested in that but preferred Google to pay for referring users to their content. It's insane.

The picture of Google that is painted here doesn't feel fair at all. Of course it's ok to disagree with Google's data collecting behaviour - you're free to use alternative services, there are enough options. But selling targeted ads simply is their business. Think about the alternative: Let's assume Google didn't collect that data - they still need to display ads though. Ads are still ads, but now they are a lot less relevant to you and simply guessing what you might be interested in.


The problem is you can't truly opt out: other people opt you in by using the service. Don't want Google to have your address? Tough, your friend gave it to them in their address book. Want to keep your birthday private? Same problem. Photos? Untag them, but they still know you were tagged. Don't want to untag? Disable it, but they still know it's you.


A friend sharing my information is a totally different scenario. That person would have been entrusted with your information only after your consent. Since there is no legal obligation on his or her part to keep the information private (there is of course some social obligation) the person had every right to share it with others and on Facebook or Google. Unfortunately we are just beginning to realize the issues with such an open system where detailed documentation has just started, how we go from here is totally up to us. But I don't think we can hold Facebook or Google legally responsible for what our friends are doing, at least not yet.


Users might not be even aware of how the data is being shared, or if it's being shared at all.

I signed up to Facebook under a pseudonym recently, but with an old work email address. I only wanted it as a throwaway account. The auto friend suggests were there soon enough and uncanny. It took me a few moments to realise the links had been made through my email address. I had not shared address book data.

It became apparent that the suggestions were a result of other people's address books (not necessarily friends as it was a work address.)

Some suggestions were a bit of an enigma. I'm not sure how Facebook draws up these connections but I guess they'd taken friends of friends of those that had me listed in their address books.

What surprised me was that the address book data shared from the other accounts, was obviously kept with Facebook for later use. For some reason I thought it would be used once then thrown away (how naive of me.) It felt a little inappropriate to say the least. I felt my addressbook had been mysteriously revealed. This could potentially be abused (not sure if the suggestions came up, before I verified the address.)

Soon after, one of those suggested friends tried to friend me. I guess my account came up as a suggestion to them. A little revealing. I should have used a new email address to sign up I guess.


That’s not really what’s happing. Politicians’ campaigns against Facebook and Google are basically FUD. The state (that’s the actor that really matters here) gobbles up data and distracts by pointing at private companies who do comparatively harmless stuff and have next to no power compared to the state.

Privacy should be about the state first and foremost. Not private companies.


While some of it is FUD, I'm pretty sure some governments (at least in Europe) are more concerned about privacy and protection of their citizens than Google and Facebook are. My government's goals are much more aligned with mine than Google's.


I think the street view thing was a deliberate campaign. Many german publishers hate Google with a passion because it eats their advertisement revenue - so much that they are even lobbying for a law passed that would force Google to pay them for indexing their content.

Microsoft started photographing a few months later and no one cared.


The 'Leistungsschutzrecht'? That was really ridiculous. Publishers could simply opt-out from being indexed but of course being paid for providing snippets of content on Google News sounded like a nicer option.

If you speak german Stefan Niggemeier just created a nice rundown of the events since 2009 that outlines how newspapers and publishers tried to cover the issue in their favor: http://www.stefan-niggemeier.de/blog/ein-kartell-nutzt-seine...


Wow, that's an impressively well-researched piece.


> so much that they are even lobbying for a law passed that would force Google to pay them for indexing their content.

Don't they remember the last time somebody tried to get in the way of Google indexing their content?

As I recall, Google just took them entirely out of the index and then they changed their tune.


> If users aren't willing to opt in to your data collection, then you're not offering something worth the trade. Facebook and Google rely on peoples ignorance to make money.

"All data collection should be opt-in" is overly simplistic. Google street view is, on the balance, a huge value and it's Germany's loss. I'm much less a fan of what Facebook. The details matter.


If I remember correctly you ran the risk of having your Facebook account closed if you made a freedom of information request via it's Irish subsidiary for all that paper work linked to your account.

Therefore I'd imagine a similar response will be generated by FB if they are forced to comply with the latest complaint.


if you made a freedom of information request

Clarification, in Ireland "Freedom of Information" is for government bodies. It's "Data Protection" law (which is the personal data of you held by anyone, government & private companies)


Thanks!


Do you actually have a link to that? I don't recall reading that Facebook would close your account if you requested information about yourself. That seems really punitive.


I think it's meant to be punitive, or maybe preventative. Basically you are making yourself more expensive for them than you are worth. They probably reasoned that if you've made this request once, you're much more likely to make it again.


Damn. I should've asked for it before I deleted my account then, just to piss them off.


If they still store information on you, you are still entitled to see it. (Knowing Facebook, they probably still have the information). If you are not in US or Canada, you are covered by the EU law and you are legally required to get a copy of all personal information they hold on you.


Correction: they're legally required to give it to you - if you ask.


Out of sheer curiousity, does anyone know the options available to Canadians? I know that we have a Privacy Act that is designed to get information out of governmental institutions, but how would a Canadian citizen go about finding what FaceBook has on them?


Why can't Germany just raid the Facebook HQ in the US for violating local law? Isn't that essentially the same that the US did at the dotcom mansion?


Dotcom was arrested by New Zealand Police, cooperating with FBI. Copyright is governed by international agreements, one of which is Berne Convention, first signed in 1886. New Zealand and US are Berne Convention signatories.

To be essentially the same, first US would sign Data Protection Directive, then Germany would request FBI to cooperate, and FBI would raid Facebook HQ.


That's not what happened. Kim Dotcom was arrested by NZ police.

Just about all extradition treaties require "double criminality", where the person is extradited on a thing that's a crime in both countries. The USA does not have these data protection laws, so the USA is highly unlike to extradite to a country where that's illegal.


I'm pretty sure that Kim Dotcom hasn't broken any NZ laws. Only a law in the USA. That's why the whole case is really borked.


I am not sure. I agree that while copyright is governed by international agreements, this case probably falls outside of what is agreed. I don't think safe harbor provisions are harmonized across jurisdictions.


The answer is because they respect the rule of law, a better analogy would be why can't germany use drone strikes or extraordinary rendition against Zuckerberg.


We can't do any drone-strikes because we do not have drones (that are equipped with firearms). We just bough some from the US but I do not think that they have arrived already. Would be interesting to know how many parts in these drones are actually made in Germany.


Because Germany doesn't respond to the beck and call of the RIAA/MPAA.


No, they respond to the beck and call of GEMA.


Twas quite clever of Facebook to set up in Ireland (and not just for the 12½% corporation tax rate). It can be a large employer in a small fish, and the Irish government is desparate to be seen to be doing something about jobs (hence any job losses from a household name would be very embarassing).

As a result, I wouldn't be too suprised if some squeeze was placed on the Data Protection Office. "Oh you want more funding... Well..."

I wonder if this is one of the reasons the EU wants to overhaul the Data Protection law so that EU citizens can complain to their national data protection office, not just the one the company is in.


Not wrong, but Facebook is hardly the only big fish in Ireland. Most large US corporations locate their European HQs there.


Indeed. Google's European HQ is in Ireland too.


Many others have large offices and employ lots of people, like Oracle, and (what was) Sun, and IBM and Intel.


Don't forget MS.


Facebook has offices in a number of EU countries, including (but not limited to) offices in London (UK), Hamburg (Germany), Brussels (Belgium), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Paris (France), Madrid (Spain), and Stockholm (Sweden).


«database of faces collected in Germany»

"Collected in Germany". It is nice to see how politics and law keep applying physical verbs to non-physical infrastructure. If you ask around you will see that there are almost as many definition of "done XXX in contry YYY" as the number of country out there: some national law see it as "the client is in YYY", other as "the server is in YYY", other as "the infrastructure is in YYY", other as "both the client and the server are in YYY" and so on.

It is very hard to be a law-abiding citizen or business on the Internet when there are heaps of contrasting laws.


I just don't see how FB currently gets that much value out of its facial recognition DB. As far as I can tell, as an end-user, it makes it easier to tag people because FB will suggest named tags (sometimes hilariously wrong).

But this is a minor convenience. If I really do want to tag a photo, then I'm already in a curation mindset and willing to put up with the precious second it takes to type in the first two-three characters of a friend's name.

At this point, FB, with those two characters, has enough information to make a 95% accurate guess...because it also has my entire history of interactions with friends, including all past tagging behavior. It obviously can derive a prediction that weights more recent tagging behavior (on the premise that I'm likely to have hung out with the same friends as I did last week)...and bingo, by the time I've typed the third character, Facebook has it narrowed down to the right person.

So why even bother keeping the facial recognition data?

...I'm not so naive to think that there aren't other applications of this facial-recognition data. I'm just pointing out that FB has nearly all the non-visual data needed to guess who is in a photo without applying any computer-vision techniques.

And that non-visual data (the history of a user's interactions) has way more predictive value on behavior than a facial-recognition DB... So given that the general public is more disturbed by things relating to physical appearance, if I were FB, I'd just give up this fight and carry on collecting all the non-visual data that they have so far.

* edit:

Along the same lines...this decision seems to be based on how FB collected this data without users explicit consent. Well, under this argument, doesn't FB collect interaction data without user consent?

Say my friend Bob continually posts on my wall, pokes me, sends me direct messages, etc. FB, without my consent, will have enough interaction data to peg me as Bob's special confidante...without any interaction on my part.

Isn't this the complaint with the face data? That my friends can tag my face and thus give FB a decent idea of my appearance? Well, my friends can also give FB a decent idea of my preferences in a variety of arenas by how they converse and interact with me...so if opt-in is the issue, isn't all of FB data up for destruction?


> Along the same lines...this decision seems to be based on how FB collected this data without users explicit consent. Well, under this argument, doesn't FB collect interaction data without user consent?

Biometric data is usually a much more touchy subject than anything else. But yes there are also people who think that interaction data (logs) collection should be opt-in.


Being able to cluster similar faces together and ask me in a single question "We think this is Jon Smith. [Correct] [Incorrect]" so I can tag my entire album in one click, would be powerful and something I'd want, since my album of 100 photos probably only has 2 or 3 people in it anyway.


Sometimes I wonder if the US Government will somehow use Facebook photos to track people, even if they themselves don't have a Facebook account. I find the idea of something like that creepy.


Ive said it once, twice and many other times. I do believe Germany is probably by far one of the most advanced political governments there are.

I so welcome their input and applaud their effort!


Every database out there can be used for evil. Whether if it's facial fingerprint or anything else. I never liked Face.com and facebook's decision to buy them. The ability of a photograph being used to track me anywhere there is a camera is not the future I want to be part of.


Or else!


I don't like the Facebook facial recognition thing either. Or when someone tags me on photos that they have uploaded. I think its creepy when someone else posts my photo, then I start getting comments on it. This should be opt-in, not opt-out.


I believe you can set permissions so that you have to approve any photo that is tagged with you in it.


They quietly removed that option and now only allow you to restrict it from your timeline (requires you to approve). You still need to manually remove the tag. Annoying.


Of course it's annoying. Facebook wants you to feel pain whenever you try to manage your own social presence in a way they can't monetize.



again, that's only for the timeline. You are still tagged.


I too yearn for the good old days when I had a chance to approve every photo uploaded to Flickr.


I'm pretty sure you can disable tags from other people.


Not if you don't have an account.


There's nothing stopping someone from making a website, putting up pictures of you and putting your name next to them. Whether you have a facebook account or not.


Talk to your law makers, asking them to copy EU law?


Of course they realize that the NSA already has a full copy?

You might think: so what, I'm not a terrorist. But think twice, because people opposing US interests (and the interests of some of the most powerful lobbies, like MPAA & RIAA) are increasingly being afforded the treatment you'd expect for a terror suspect.


> But think twice, because people opposing US interests (and the interests of some of the most powerful lobbies, like MPAA & RIAA) are increasingly being afforded the treatment you'd expect for a terror suspect.

[citation needed]


Jacob Appelbaum. And a lot of other crypto/privacy advocates and/or civil right activists.


kim dotcom raid?


Nope. Kim Dotcom was arrested by NZ police to face extradition hearings. He's been released on bail and hasn't even left New Zealand, much less been spirited away to CIA black sites or detained at Guantanamo Bay or declared an illegal enemy combatant or brought before a military tribunal or denied access to legal counsel. Whatever problems there are with his arrest and the searches and seizures that took place with it, they're following the exact same procedures they would for any extradition case, nothing like the procedures used for terror suspects.


Why do you need a SWAT team to arrest someone for copyright infringement?

Great great grandparent used the words increasingly and expect, not simply are.


90% of the time a SWAT team is used, you don't need a SWAT team. Overzealous law enforcement is a problem, but it's a problem that predates, and is largely separate from, the even-more-exceptional counterterrorism measures. It's not useful to conflate the two issues. Kim Dotcom wasn't "treated as a terror suspect" any more than the "don't tase me bro" kid. Not to say that it isn't an issue, just not the same issue.


Pfft. If that were the case, every commenter on this site would be locked up by now. Dotcom was basically waggling his ass in the general direction of the USA.


Of course they realize that. But what can they do about that?


Who cares? There's no risk they are going to sell it or try to make some dirty money using it in other ways.


> Who cares? There's no risk they are going to sell it or try to make some dirty money using it in other ways.

What makes you think that? All the big telecom companies make "dirty money" by processing the millions of warrantless wiretap and information requests. Facebook probably already does too, it's not much of a difference between that and utilizing a face database.


While the NSA having this tech can be worrisome, there is zero chance they are going to blow their load by revealing they have it to catch someone doing copyright infringement, no matter how much control you think the maFIAA exerts.


The NSA aren't covered by EU privacy law, however.




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