Facebook suspends tagging tool in EU amid privacy concerns

Facebook has suspended its "tag-suggest" tool for users in Europe in response to concerns over online privacy.

Tool uses facial-recognition technology

Facebook is suspending its tag-suggest tool for photos to comply with a review by Ireland's data protection commissioner. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Facebook has suspended its "tag-suggest" tool for users in Europe in response to concerns over online privacy.

The tool uses facial-recognition technology to identify registered users in photographs that are uploaded to the website and then suggests their names for labelling.

In a statement released Friday, Ireland's data protection commissioner, Billy Hawkes, said he was encouraged by the move, which had not been among his office's recommendations.

"By doing so [Facebook] is sending a clear signal of its wish to demonstrate its commitment to best practice in data protection compliance," Hawkes said.

The feature has already been turned off for new users in Europe, and templates for existing users will be deleted by Oct. 15.

Working with commission

Richard Allan, Facebook director of policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told BBC News that the website intends to restore the feature once it meets the commission's data protection requirements.

"The EU has looked at the issue of securing consent for this kind of technology and issued new guidance," said Allen. "Our intention is to reinstate the tag-suggest feature, but consistent with new guidelines. The service will need a different form of notice and consent."

Facebook has been working with the commission to comply with recommendations made last December. They include providing better transparency on how user data is handled, giving users more control over their settings and making it easier to delete items from the site.

The social networking site has faced criticism in the past from other governments for how it handles users' personal information. In August, Germany launched another investigation into Facebook's facial-recognition tool.

Canada's privacy commissioner has said that Facebook is breaching the country's privacy law due to a lack of transparency on how users can control their information.