06/08/2011 08:00 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2011

Facebook Rolls Out Facial Recognition For Photo Tagging

Facebook has rolled out a facial recognition based photo feature for all users, effectively automatically changing users' privacy settings without notifying them beforehand, critics say.

The Facebook tool will use facial recognition technology to suggest that other users tag a photo of a friend once identified. Facebook still does not let users pre-approve tags. Though the feature has been live in the U.S. since December, Facebook said in a blog post that it has now been extended to "most countries" that have the social network. The lack of notice over the change has some up in arms.

"We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them," a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email to the Huffington Post.

For users uncomfortable with the setting, disabling the feature is the way to go. Users can disable facial recognition by going to privacy settings, clicking "Customize settings," and going to "Things others share." There, they will find the "Suggest photos of me to friends. When photos look like me, suggest my name" option, where they can click "Edit settings" and turn it from "Enabled" to "Disabled."

Sophos points out that the new feature's roll-out emphasizes one of Facebook's pre-existing privacy issues, namely that privacy should be the default setting, with all information sharing only enabled once users agree. While some people may think it's no big deal to let the site suggest tags through this feature, others could be uncomfortable with the idea that software is analyzing their faces and using it to identify them in other people's pictures.

"Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth," the firm wrote.

Others are even more perturbed by the idea that Facebook is effectively creating a huge database of photos and people to use for facial recognition.

"At the end of the day, Facebook's facial recognition technology is downright creepy," wrote PCWorld. "Facial recognition technology will ultimately culminate in the ability to search for people using just a picture. And that will be the end of privacy as we know it--imagine, a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street, in a crowd, or with a telephoto lens, and discover everything about you on the internet."

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that Google has facial recognition technology, but is not releasing it. "As far as I know, it's the only technology Google has built and, after looking at it, we decided to stop," he said.

In Europe, Facebook's move is already stirring up trouble. According to Businessweek, Facebook will face an E.U. probe from data protection regulators over the new feature

Facebook's full statement in regards to the feature is below. Find out more on their blog post.

We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that's currently done more than 100 million times a day. Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested. If for any reason someone doesn't want their name to be suggested, they can disable the feature in their Privacy Settings .

When we announced this feature last December, we explained that we would test it, listen to feedback and iterate before rolling it out more broadly. We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them. Tag Suggestions are now available in most countries and we'll post further updates to our blog over time.