The US Senate has summoned Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB) to a hearing on Wednesday, following its acquisition of Israeli face recognition start-up Face.com. The executives will have to explain what the company intends to do with the technology and its implications for privacy.
Facebook has been using Face.com's facial recognition technology for more than a year to enable its users to easily identify and tag their friends in pictures uploaded on to the site. Facebook has weathered sharp criticism from various organizations, and this criticism has intensified since Facebook acquired Face.com for $60 million in June.
Earlier this year, Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law chairman Senator Al Franken (Democrat, Minnesota) stated in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "The dimensions of our faces are as unique to us as our fingerprints. And right now technology exists that gives the government and companies the ability to figure out your name and other personal information about you with nothing more than a photograph."
Franken is concerned about the immense database that Facebook is building on the basis of its 900 million users worldwide. "A back of the envelope calculation suggests that Facebook could easily have a face print for one out of every 20 people on the planet," he said in his statement to the FTC. "Facial recognition technology could become a powerful and positive tool for public safety and private sector innovation. The key is to ensure that strong safeguards exist for privacy and civil liberties so that the benefits of these biometric technologies aren't outweighed by negative effects on privacy."
At tomorrow's hearing, representatives from the FBI and the FTC will also tell the Senate Judiciary Committee examine how law enforcement uses facial recognition technology. Facebook manager of privacy and public policy Rob Sherman will represent the company.
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