October 22, 2012, 4:36 PM — Web companies using facial recognition technology should avoid identifying anonymous images of consumers to someone who could not otherwise identify them, unless the companies have the consumers' consent, a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report said.
Companies using facial recognition software should also obtain consumer consent before using images or any biometric data in a different way than they originally represented when they collected the data, the FTC said in guidelines for the use of facial recognition software released Monday.
Users of the emerging technology should also develop reasonable security protections for the information they collect and sound methods for determining when to keep and when to dispose of information, the FTC report said.
"Fortunately, the commercial use of facial recognition technologies is still young," the FTC report said. "This creates a unique opportunity to ensure that as this industry grows, it does so in a way that respects the privacy interests of consumers while preserving the beneficial uses the technology has to offer."
Facebook, when rolling out its facial recognition feature in mid-2011, said it would help users tag photos of friends and family members. Privacy groups complained that the company was collecting new personal data without asking users for permission.
The use of facial recognition by Web companies, including Facebook, and government agencies, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, has raised concerns from privacy advocates and some lawmakers. In July, U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said that legislation may be needed to limit the way government agencies and private companies use the technology.
In September, Facebook turned off its facial recognition feature for users in the European Union after privacy regulators there raised concerns.
A Facebook spokesman said the company was examining the FTC report, but didn't have an immediate comment.
The report recommends best practices for companies using or planning to use facial recognition software, the FTC report said. The best practices, where they go beyond existing legal requirements, are not intended to "serve as a template" for future FTC enforcement actions, the report said.