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Google+ Ties Facial Recognition to Photo Tagging

Unlike Facebook's most recent foray into facial recognition, Google makes the feature "opt-in"--one that you must choose to activate.

The Other Social Network, Google+, has announced that it will be rolling out in the next few days a feature automatically suggesting tagging friends in photos posted to it.

A similar feature in Facebook caused a privacy uproar last summer, but Google hopes to avoid that kind of controversy by making the feature "opt-in"--one that you must choose to activate. That sharply contrasts with Facebook's high-handed approach, which was to turn the feature on for everyone and require them turn it off, or "opt out."

When you turn on "Find My Face" in Google+, whenever people you know post a photo to their Google+ account that has your mug in it, a prompt will appear. It boxes your face on the image and asks the poster, "Is this [your name]?"

If the poster identifies the face as yours, you'll be notified. Then you can approve or reject the tag. If you approve the tag, the photo will be linked to your profile. If you reject it, the photo won't be linked, but it will remain online and you'll still be tagged in it.

Reaction

Judging from comments on the Google announcement, user reaction to the new feature has been overwhelmingly positive. "Nice work," wrote Travis Kroger. "This is a great feature."

"Nice!" Patrik Johansson added. "And I'm glad to see that it's not opted in by default."

One commenter, though, raised privacy concerns about the practice. "Facial recognition software is very dangerous," M. Monica wrote. "I am upset that Google Plus is doing this--the potential for corrupt governments to use it to punish civil disobedience is great."

Privacy concerns were also raised about Facebook's use of facial recognition, but those concerns may be misplaced because the technology deployed by the social network isn't very good. Google, on the other hand, has very good facial recognition technology, as many users, including myself, of Picasa, Google's image management program, have discovered. It's believed that technology is what's being used in Find My Face.

Germany Facing Off with Facebook Over Facial Recognition

Good or not, Facebook's use of facial recognition has landed it in hot water in Germany, which has had its own run-ins with Google in the past. Last month, the Hamburg Data Protection Authority started preliminary procedures to bring legal action against Facebook and its tag-a-mug feature. The authority pursued the actions after the social network refused to obtain consent from users retroactively.

German law requires companies to clearly inform users about how their personal information is being used and that didn't happen when Facebook began using facial recognition technology for photo-tag suggestions, the privacy watchdog said.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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