Facebook on Monday said it was rolling out an easier, faster way to share photos within its Messenger app using a facial recognition feature that has raised privacy concerns in the past.
The social network’s new “Photo Magic,” will look into your photos and recommend ones to share with your friends by using artificial intelligence to identify if the friends are in them. It’s similar to the facial recognition that prompts you to tag a friend when you upload a photo to a Facebook Wall.
The feature will be rolled out in an updated Facebook Messenger Android app, starting in Australia on Monday. An iOS version and expansion to other countries is expected over the coming weeks and months.
If the user decides to send a photo, it would be in a Messenger chat, rather than a posting on a friend’s wall. If the app recognizes multiple friends in the photo it will open a chat thread with everyone involved.
Although Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp, one of the most popular places that people share photos with their friends isn’t on those services, but instead through its Messenger app. This feature aims to fix it. To speed up the process further, the app will also send a notification once you take a photo with friends it recognizes to alert you to share the photo with them. You can tap on the notification to instantly send the picture.
Facebook’s launch earlier this year of its Moments photo app was criticized by some privacy groups for requiring users to go into their privacy settings and turn the automatic tagging off. Groups such as the Center for Digital Democracy argue Facebook, Google and other consumer tech companies should get users’ permission before they use their photos in facial recognition software — in other words, requiring consumers to opt in, rather than opt out.
The new Photo Magic feature was met today with a similar response. “The problem with facial recognition generally is that the user who is tagged may not have consented to the use of their image in this way,” says Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Rotenberg is particularly concerned with Facebook potentially using images obtained through Photo Magic for advertising purposes on the service.
Adds Rotenberg, “The FTC needs to look at the Facebook announcement closely and then issue a public determination as to whether it complies with the consent order. EPIC’s view is that it does not.”
As with other photo sharing apps, you will need to give Facebook Messenger permission to access your photos before the feature can work. You can turn off Facebook’s facial recognition software in your Facebook settings by disabling tagging suggestions.
While the move is in Messenger, the goal for Facebook is to increase engagement and time spent in its services. According to the company, over 700 million people use Messenger and over 9.5 billion photos were shared between users on Messenger within the last month.
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal
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