Facebook brings back its controversial facial recognition feature to Europe after closing it in 2012

  • Facebook is bringing its facial recognition technology back to Europe, even after agreeing with regulators to drop the feature nearly six years ago.
  • The social network outlined a number of measures it would be rolling out to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.
  • One of the features it is introducing in Europe is face recognition.
  • Facebook stopped the face recognition feature in Europe in 2012 after concerns from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.
Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Facebook is bringing its facial recognition technology back to Europe, despite agreeing with regulators to drop the feature nearly six years ago.

On Tuesday, the social network outlined a number of measures it would be rolling out to comply with a strict new data law in the European Union known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You can read all about that here.

One of the features it is introducing in Europe is face recognition. The company says that it can help protect your privacy by allowing it to detect when another person is using your image as their profile picture. It can also recognize other faces and suggest friends you might want to tag in photos or videos.

But Facebook stopped this face recognition feature in Europe in 2012 after concerns from regulators and privacy advocates. At the time, the Irish data protection authority was investigating Facebook's transparency on user data and privacy. Ireland is the home of Facebook's European headquarters.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner asked Facebook to delete any data that Facebook had garnered at the time through the facial recognition feature. Facebook complied. The regulator also said that the social network would need to "agree a process for collecting consent" with the data protection authority before reintroducing facial recognition.

CNBC is yet to hear back from either Facebook or the Irish Data Protection Commissioner on whether the two spoke about the feature before it was announced.

Facebook is giving users the option to block or allow facial recognition. But a user cannot choose specific uses for the feature. For example, a user cannot choose to have facial recognition to detect profiles that have used their pictures, but then disable the feature when it comes to tagging friends in their images. It is all or nothing.

Facial recognition has landed the social media giant in hot water. U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled in a San Francisco federal court that Facebook must face a class action lawsuit that alleges it unlawfully used the technology on images without permission from users.