As it turns out, the government might distrust Facebook’s facial recognition technology – the one that automatically recognizes the faces of your Facebook friends letting you “tag them” in pictures – but it’s totally fine letting citizens in the state of Washington register to vote in the 2012 Election via their Facebooks profiles.
The contradiction highlights the incredible growth experienced by the social network, as well as its pervasiveness in our every day activities, as the Palo Alto, California, company continues to ride its recent and volatile decision to public on the stock market.
In a hearing on Wednesday, members of a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) sought answers from a senior Facebook official about the social network’s use of facial-recognition technology, challenging Facebook’s policy of setting the tag suggestions facial-recognition feature as a default, and then allowing users to opt out.
Senator Franken also suggested that the company has not been as forthcoming as it could be about how much data it collects and how that information is used. “I think Facebook could still do more to explain to its users how it uses facial recognition,” Franken said.
Meanwhile, Washington will become the first state to allow eligible residents to register to vote through Facebook this month, according to Brian Zylstra a spokesman for the secretary of state's office. Though online voter registration has existed in Washington since 2008, this is the first time users of social media will be able to register using their Facebook accounts.
The operative will be possible thanks to a software application interface jointly developed by Facebook and Microsoft Corp., at no cost to the state, with which users who want to register online to vote will be able to do so on the official Facebook page of Washington’s secretary of state by providing a name and birth date (which Facebook already collects from its users' profiles) and a state identification or driver's license number.
Though Facebook assured that the additional data will not be shared with the social media network, it remains to be seen if voters of Washington state – or any other state that ends up implementing registration through the Facebook platform – will be comfortable sharing their driver licenses numbers as well as their date of birth (two pieces of data which are enough to open a credit line) through their Facebook profiles, given the constant issues of privacy that often arise – as exemplified by the U.S. Senate’s hearing on Facebook’s facial recognition technology.