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Facebook Changes Policies in Response to Jepsen’s Concerns

by | Jul 26, 2011 12:46pm
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Posted to: Business, CT Tech Junkie, Legal, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Attorney General George Jepsen

Attorney George Jepsen said Tuesday his complaints about privacy prompted executives at Facebook to change its policies regarding the “opt out” process for its facial recognition software that helps identify users in photos.

Last month, Jepsen demanded a meeting with the social networking site’s officials over privacy concerns regarding a new feature that uses facial recognition software to identify people in photographs. The feature only identifies people who are already friends with the user and those people are only tagged in photos, if the user chooses to identify them.

The attorney general’s concerns were rooted in the fact that, like most new Facebook features, the “Tag Suggestion” feature is automatically defaulted “on” for users, “potentially exposing them to unwelcome attention and loss of privacy.”

At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Jepsen said that he met with representatives of the company in June at the National Association of Attorneys General meeting in Chicago and found the company willing to help.

Following that meeting and subsequent correspondence with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fitzsimmons, Facebook has run ads on its site, which direct users to their privacy settings and show them how they can opt out of the feature.

The first round of ads ran this month and Jepsen said they resulted in 400 million impressions on users’ homepages. The second round begins today and the company is estimating that every user in the U.S. will see the ads at least twice.

“To Facebook’s credit, they want to solve problems and they recognize that these privacy issues are going to come up from time to time. They change their business model on a not infrequent basis and they don’t want to see issues and problems,” he said.

The company also changed its policies regarding the reporting process for users who find someone has created an imposter profile, claiming to be them.

That change resulted from a strange case involving Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford.

Rose said in February she noticed that someone had created a Facebook profile in her name and was soliciting money from her contacts. She later learned that the imposter profile stemmed from an IP address in Nigeria.

At the time, she said she had difficulty contacting Facebook to shut down the imposter profile.

“It was a huge problem. It took me two weeks to figure out how this person actually even duplicated my page. It wasn’t that they had stolen my password, but they had actually taken my photograph, downloaded it and started friending my friends,” she said.

Rose called the experience frustrating, saying that she kept reporting it but got no response in return. Finally she went to the attorney general’s office. The changes they negotiated with Facebook were simple and easily accessible. Anyone who finds an imposter profile should have no problem reporting it now, she said.

And she knows this because she got the chance to test the new process when her Facebook page was again duplicated this past weekend. This time the fake profile was removed from the site within one hour,  Jepsen said.

Despite her initial difficulty in getting Facebook to address the imposter profile, Rose thanked the company for their work. Given changing nature of the industry she said she understands it can be difficult to identify problems.

“Sometimes they don’t realize what a problem is until someone puts a gun to their heads and says, ‘Hey, this is a problem,’” she said.

Jepsen said the company worked quickly after he raised Rose’s concerns, and developed the effective new protocols.

“They didn’t have to do that, they could have dragged their feet but they didn’t. When a business is cooperative and works to solve problems they ought to be recognized for that,” he said.

In a prepared statement, Facebook Director of Public Policy Tim Sparapani commended Jepsen’s work.

“Our collaboration with Attorney General Jepsen means that people across the country using Facebook will be more aware of our personalized privacy settings, and how they can be used to benefit their experience on the site,” he said. “The attorney general has been an effective partner on this project, and we hope that people on Facebook will find the results to be helpful and useful.” 

Click here to read CTTechJunkie’s coverage of Jepsen’s request and watch a step-by-step guide to turning off the “Tag Suggestions” feature.

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