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This article was published on November 10, 2011

Facebook sued by German authorities over facial-recognition policies

Facebook sued by German authorities over facial-recognition policies

Having already been taken to task over its use of tracking cookies and how it embeds its Like button, Facebook has again found itself at the wrong end of legal pressure from German authorities after the company was sued over its use of face recognition software on its service.

Deutsche Welle reports that Hamburg’s state data protection authority has begun legal action against the world’s largest social network for its use of automatic face recognition, stating that “further negotiations are pointless”.

Adding a statement to its website, the organisation said the company stores a “comprehensive database of the biometric features of all users”, adding that it does so “without informing the user and without obtaining the required consent. Unequivocal consent of the parties is required by both European and national data protection law.”

According to Hamburg officials, Facebook said it would inform users of the feature but launched it anyway, leading to the authority to complain about the process and enter talks with the company.

Responding to the action, Facebook said:

“We believe that any legal action is completely unnecessary,” wrote Tina Kulow, a Facebook spokesperson in Germany, in an e-mail sent to Deutsche Welle. “[The] tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with EU data protection laws.”<

Deutsche Welle notes that whilst Facebook allows users to opt-out of the feature, German data protection laws state that users must opt-in, so they can decide whether they have their data stored or not.

According to the report, German authorities will find it difficult to do something about the violations because Facebook doesn’t have any servers in the country. However, Germany’s Federal Minister for Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner and the EU’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding have met in Brussels on Monday to discuss whether companies that do business in Europe are forced to adhere to European laws.

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