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FaceBook’s Latest PR Problem

Facebook recently expanded its facial recognition abilities to include users throughout the world, where it previously (as of December 2010) was only available in the United States. There’s been a bit of an uproar for two main reasons:

    • Facebook failed to properly prepare users by not explaining exactly what the facial recognition software did or how it was used.
    • Instead of encouraging users to opt in to the service, everyone’s account was activated by default.

      The first issue is a PR concern, although not one that Facebook hasn’t weathered numerous times already. They have a history of rolling out new features and privacy policies without letting users know. Good PR would be to announce a new feature, ask for feedback from users, gauge response, tweak anything if necessary, and then move forward.

      Whether due to lack of understand or lack of caring, Facebook’s announcements have usually been “We’re sorry about that. Since people have complained, we’ll do this, this, and this to fix it.” While this isn’t generally accepted as good PR, when you’re a company valued at billions of dollars with an extremely loyal customer base, you can do pretty much whatever you want.

      It turns out that the facial recognition software doesn’t automatically tag anyone, but instead scans pictures and gives a user posting a picture the option to auto-tag pictures – making the process easier. Previously, each had to be tagged individually, with each person’s name typed in each time.

      The second issue, relating to the feature being on as a default, is one that likely won’t change. Zuckerberg has said he’s “building a Web where the default is social.” Speculation on whether his intentions are pure aside, Facebook’s goal is to make social networking easier and simpler; this new facial recognition software does just that.

      For some people, they feel there is an underlying principle of privacy; that even though users are voluntarily using Facebook and voluntarily posting pictures and voluntarily providing personal information, they should still have complete control over how that information is used.

      The problem with this, at least in the United States, is that we apparently didn’t care when this facial recognition was first rolled out back in December. Most users probably thought, “Wow! It didn’t do that before!” and ignored any pestering questions about the potential consequences of such a feature. It wasn’t until the tool was available worldwide that American users had a moment of pause to think that having this feature be active as the default might be a bad thing.

      But until either Facebook changes its approach (it won’t) or users change their outlook (they won’t) we can probably expect more of the same from Facebook and their PR department.

      Scott Spjut is a writer and blogger who has been featured in various print and online publications. Scott currently works with Professional Marketing International helping people change their lives.

      Posted in Social Networking. Tags: , , , , , ,

      3 Replies

      1. Personally, I have nothing against the facial recognition feature of Facebook. If people think that this new feature is an invasion of privacy, they could have reacted when the manual tagging was launched. We shouldn’t be appalled by this cool feature because there always will be a remove tag option. Plus there is also the option to deactivate this feature so we still have control over our own privacy.

      2. If this is accurate and really works this will be amazing – whether or not you like it, will eventually make everything you ever do public – if you are a facebook user – whatever safe guards are put in place it will still make being anonymous really difficult. In the same way the google street view means people can find out a lot a bout you with just a few details to go with.

        I’m not against it – I’m just amazed at the way every bit of info is being catalogued and databased.

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