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Facebook suspends facial-recognition tool in Europe

Facebook has shut down its facial-recognition tool in Europe, based on recommendations from the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC).

Though the DPC didn't specifically call for the programme to be completely removed, Commissioner Billy Hawkes is happy with the end result.

"I am particularly encouraged in relation to the approach [Facebook Ireland] has decided to adopt on the tag suggest/facial recognition feature by in fact agreeing to go beyond our initial recommendations, in light of developments since then, in order to achieve the best practice," Hawkes said in a statement.

The feature has already been turned off for all new users, and current templates will be deleted by 15 October.

The move comes as the DPC completed a review of Facebook's implementation of privacy recommendations the commission requested in December. At the time, Facebook agreed to be more transparent about its photo-tagging feature and how its European users' data is used. Facebook also told European users that they would receive more alerts about how the facial-recognition feature works, so they could decide to use it or not.

"As our regulator in Europe, the Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is constantly working with us to ensure that we keep improving on the high standards of control that we have built into our existing tools," a Facebook spokesman said.

"Today's review is an ongoing process of oversight and Facebook's facial-recognition decision is confirmation that the social network is not only compliant, but has gone above and beyond the initial DPC recommendations," the spokesman continued.

According to the DPC's review, the majority of its recommendations have been fully implemented, including better transparency about how user data is handled, increased user control over settings, and the enhanced ability for users to delete personal data.

Gary Davis, deputy DPC commissioner, said that the discussions and negotiations, often robust on both sides, were constructive, carrying the collective goal of compliance with data protection requirements.

"There were a number of items on which progress was not fully forward as we had hoped and we have set a deadline of four weeks for these matters to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion," Davis said in a statement. "It is also clear that ongoing engagement with the company will be necessary as it continues to bring forward new ways of serving advertising to users and retaining users on the site."

Last year, Facebook ran into similar troubles when German data protection officials requested that Facebook disable is facial-recognition software and delete any previously stored data. Officials reopened their investigation earlier this month, claiming that the data protection commissioner in Hamburg had not been able to come to an agreement with the social network.