Facebook’s new policy changes allow it to read your face, use it for ads

by Lauren Hockenson, Gigaom

Facebook is making big changes to the language in its Data Use and Privacy Policy that will allow the company to use information already on the platform in new ways that might frustrate some users. While some of the changes may raise some red flags for those concerned about giving up even more private data, at least the company is telling us ahead of time.

The list of proposed changes are available via the Facebook Site Governance page for review, although the exact language is obscured from users. The most important changes have to do with how Facebook can recognize and manage a user’s image to create a better experience on the platform and create Sponsored Stories without legal reproach.

The changes come at the order of a judge, now Facebook has finally ended the class-action lawsuit against its use of user information for ads and sponsored stories with a $20 million settlement. The lawsuit put Facebook in the hot seat for using the images and content of users for ad content without consent or compensation — even, at times, featuring users who were under 18.  The company is trying to ensure that it won’t surprise users again, and is using plenty of plain language to protect itself.

“We rewrote the entire advertising section to better explain what we thought was important for people to know about how we use the information we receive to provide relevant ads to people on and off Facebook,” Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote to users.

That new advertising section essentially covers the thorny issues in Facebook’s recent lawsuit. When the changes go into effect after a week-long comment period, simply using Facebook will allow the company to use the name, likeness and language of a user for ads or “Sponsored Stories” without any compensation. That issue now extends to minors, which was the biggest sticking point of the class-action law suit, as users under 18 consent to testify that an adult has given permission for this to happen.

The second is a tiny, easily-overlooked change in the way that Facebook manages facial recognition for photo tags. With the new updates, Facebook could match faces in friends’ photos by reading and analyzing features in a user’s profile photo. Egan told AllThingsD that this feature is directed to encourage tagging more photos and prevent “unsavory” photos from reaching the public forum.

However, if the idea that Facebook knows your face is unsettling, the feature can be disabled via the platform’s labyrinthian Privacy Settings dashboard.