Business Insider reported on Friday that as early as 2015, Facebook created a facial recognition smartphone app. It was said to have had the ability to “scan the faces of people identifiable through the social network’s facial recognition system.”
A Facebook spokesperson told news outlets in a statement that it’s not out of the ordinary for the company to develop apps for internal use only. He said it was “a way to learn about new technologies.”
He added that the facial recognition app was only available to employees and “could only recognize employees and their friends who had face recognition enabled.”
He also said that a Facebook test asking users to take photos of their faces is intended to detect people “but is not made to recognize the face of any individual person.”
Facebook is now making facial recognition an option for users. People who don’t want their faces to be analyzed can opt-out.
Business Insider reported that the app was in its early stages, according to CNET. It worked by providing employees the Facebook name and profile picture of anyone they pointed their phone cameras at.
It pre-dates the 2018 Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal that exposed as many as 87 million Facebook users. The company was fined a record $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations.
This isn’t the first time Facebook was questioned about using facial recognition. The feature that suggests the identity of people in photos was the center of a 2015 lawsuit. The suit alleged that Facebook broke an Illinois biometric privacy law. Photo tagging used to be a default feature, but now it is something users have to opt into.
The class-action lawsuit will move forward despite Facebook’s efforts to halt it. The contention is about permission and a lack of information about how the photos would be used. Facebook is potentially facing fines between $1,000 and $5,000 for every penalty, and there are 7 million people involved, so the total could reach as much as $35 billion.