Facebook not-so-quietly opened an opt-out facial recognition product to everyone except America on Tuesday. Despite loads of misleading headlines on the topic, the feature wasn't really news in the United States, because Facebook had launched the photo-tagging feature here last December and facial recognition technology first appeared as a feature on the site in October. People tend to think facial recognition is rather creepy, so Facebook treated this product with kid gloves. The roll-out happened slowly, only 5% of American users at first and then a gradual build-up to the rest of the network. If the flurry of coverage yesterday is any indication, Facebook's stealth strategy worked at skirting around widespread outrage last year. But not this year.
On Wednesday afternoon, the European Union data-protection regulators announced a probe to investigate whether the social network's new feature violates privacy rules. "Tags of people on pictures should only happen based on people’s prior consent and it can’t be activated by default," said a Luxembourg official told Businessweek, adding that the regulators intend to "clarify to Facebook that this can’t happen like this.” And that's a general complaint against Facebook, whose founder believes that the web should be social by default. In addition to the E.U. probe, officials in the United Kingdom and Ireland are looking into this practice.