The “enhanced” photo tagging that Facebook started rolling out at the turn of the year is now all over the headlines, and parents might want to think about the impact on kids, who love the photo-sharing aspect of the site. Some kids race home from (summer) school to see who’s tagged them. So now, if a friend uploads a new group photo, Facebook with its giant database of user photos, uses this facial-recognition technology to recognize you in the photo and sends the friend a message asking if they’d like to tag you in the new photo. Not that big a deal, tech pundit Tim O’Reilly and Forbes columnist Kashmir Hill write (more on their posts in a moment), but add kid-style enthusiasm for sharing, and you could have a slightly different equation, with over-sharing on the other side of the equal sign. “No need to freak out over the new feature as it is easily disabled,” writes Tshaka Armstrong, wise parent and principal at Digital Shepherds, providing 5 disabling steps.
Meanwhile, “the US Federal Trade Commission has been asked to look into it. Here in Europe it has had a rocky reception,” writes Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Rooney from Europe. He suggests that “maybe it just takes Facebook to enter the fray for people to sit up and take notice,” since – as Hill and O’Reilly point out – facial recognition technology has been in use in our lives for years. Wired’s Ryan Singel says the feature’s “pretty common-sense” but explains the backlash by pointing to “1) the fateful combination of the words ‘Facial Recognition’ and ‘Facebook’ and 2) Facebook’s tone-deaf handling of the feature” (Facebook has apologized, ZDNET Asia reports). But the FTC may be as concerned about Facebook’s repurposing of user information as it was about Google’s with Buzz (see MediaPost).
The key long-term lesson for users of all ages, I feel, is stated best by Tim O’Reilly: “We need to move away from a Maginot-line like approach where we try to put up walls to keep information from leaking out, and instead assume that most things that used to be private are now knowable via various forms of data mining.” So what’s most important is working with our kids and students to be alert about and apply critical thinking to their and their peers’ info-sharing as well as their privacy settings. We need to model that vigilance and critical judgment too – it’s a continuous, learn-as-we-go collaboration for all of us now, in the early days of this major media shift. [See also "A Parents' Guide to Facebook" at ConnectSafely.org and my co-director Larry Magid on this development in the Huffington Post.]