Facebook Moments app NOT COMING to a mobile device near EU soon

Crumbs, Zuck – pesky data watchdogs still hate facial recog


Mark Zuckerberg may have bigged up Facebook's latest app release on Monday, but one thing was missing from the vomit-inducing, fluffy coverage around Moments: it won't be coming to Europe any time soon.

The reason? Facial recognition technology is a key element of the app.

So – given that Moments would be about as useful as a chocolate teapot without the creepy tech – privacy-sensitive folk in the European Union won't have access to the app in the near future, The Register has learned.

Since 2012, Facebook has disabled facial recognition software on its photo-tagging service in Europe to placate data watchdogs who have expressed concerns about the function.

Facebook, which recently wheeled out its Euro lobbyist Richard Allan to gripe about various probes into the company's data-handling tactics, declined to comment when quizzed about any planned deployment of its Moments app in the EU.

But El Reg understands that the free content ad network has no immediate strategy to roll out the app within the 28-member state bloc, which is home to 500 million citizens.

What are you syncing about?

Facebook has promised that its Moments app would sync photos on an Android or iOS device in "a private way" to allow pals to quickly share pics with each other.

And here's the there-be-face-scanning-robots blurb about how the new app was developed:

In the prototypes we built, facial recognition produced highly accurate, actionable suggestions. If friends of yours are recognised in a photo you take, that's a signal that they probably want the photo.

If you took other photos around that time or at the same event, they may want those photos, too. Your friends may want to give you the photos that they took around that time, as well.

We were fortunate to be able to leverage Facebook's existing facial recognition technology. Recognising our friends is something that we can do easily as humans, but it's a complex problem for computers.

Only breakthroughs in recent years, some developed by Facebook's AI Research team, have made this technology something that can be really useful to people.

It's unclear whether Facebook – which has its European headquarters in Ireland – is in private talks about the tech with the Irish Data Protection Commission.

The Reg sought comment from the watchdog but we hadn't heard back at time of publication.

Certainly, it's in Zuck & Co's interest to convince the regulator to soften its stance against Facebook's use of facial recognition technology in its products.

But, as we've seen elsewhere, the EU's mood music isn't exactly playing to Facebook's tune right now. ®

Bootnote

As an anecdotal aside, this Blighty scribe recently noted that Facebook's facial recognition tech does kick into action on its photo-tagging service when the user happens to be from outside the EU.

A friend, who was recently visiting from Oz, was immediately tagged by Facebook when a photo of him was posted on the app in London. Which appears to suggest some relaxation of the rules already ...

Update

An Irish DPC spokesman has since responded to El Reg's questions. We were told on Wednesday morning:

In relation to the app called Moments, as it is a US product only, we have not been consulted by Facebook Ireland on it, we would only expect to be consulted if it was being introduced in Europe.

This office has not been consulted on any planned roll out of facial recognition products in Europe, we would expect to be consulted if such products are being considered for Europe.

So there you have it.

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