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Facebook's facial recognition knows who your friends are

The first thing you probably want to know about Facebook's new "tag suggestions" — which uses facial recognition technology to suggest which friend is probably featured in which photo — is that you can turn it off.

Facebook announced "tag suggestions" yesterday, explaining the upcoming feature thusly: "When you or a friend upload new photos, we use face recognition software — similar to that found in many photo editing tools — to match your new photos to other photos you're tagged in. We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos."

Anticipating the inevitable freakout that accompanies every Facebook change, the world's largest social network is giving users an ample heads up — tag suggestions isn't available now, but will be rolling out across the United States in the following weeks.

The feature is an upgraded version of the facial recognition technology you may already take for granted when you upload and tag images on Facebook. The square that magically finds faces in a photo will now suggest the name of your Facebook friend it's identified through your profile, thus streamlining the process. Anyone who's ever attempted to tag a photo on a slow connection may quickly come to appreciate this feature — especially if you're the type of user who likes to upload huge sets of photos. As Facebook explains:

Now if you upload pictures from your cousin's wedding, we'll group together pictures of the bride and suggest her name. Instead of typing her name 64 times, all you'll need to do is click "Save" to tag all of your cousin's pictures at once. By making tagging easier than before, you're more likely to know right away when friends post photos.

This next part is important, and you really need to pay attention — especially if you're concerned about this new Facebook app tagging your name on potentially embarrassing images. According to Facebook, "for any reason you don't want your name to be suggested, you will be able to disable suggested tags in your Privacy Settings.  Just click 'Customize Settings' and 'Suggest photos of me to friends.' Your name will no longer be suggested in photo tags, though friends can still tag you manually."

Currently, you have the option of untagging photos you've been tagged in by friends. Simply go to the photo and click your name to do so. There is no option to prevent friends from tagging you in photos, but you can prevent others from seeing the photos via your tagged name. Here's how you do that:

  • From the Account menu in the upper right corner of your profile, chose Privacy Settings.
  • Underneath the list of your current privacy settings, click "Customize settings."
  • Scroll down to "Things others share" section.
  • Next to "Photos and videos I'm tagged in" click "Edit settings."
  • From the "Edit settings" prompt that appears on your screen, use the drop-down menu to choose "Customize."
  • In the "Custom Privacy" prompt that appears, you will see a drop down menu next to "These people."
  • From the "These people" menu, you have the option of choosing who can see photos via your tagged name. You can set it to "Only me" or you can add specific Facebook friends who are permitted see those photos via your tagged name. Here, you also have the option of preventing specific Facebook friends seeing photos via your tagged name.
  • Save this option. As with other Facebook privacy settings, you can change it at any time. You just have to do it.

Helen A.S. Popkin is always going "blah blah blah" about online privacy, then she asks you to follow her on Facebook and/or Twitter … because that's how she rolls.