How to Turn Off Facebook's Facial Recognition Tags

Keep control over your privacy

••• Facebook 

Sure, it's fun—at first. A friend posts a picture of that event the two of you attended and tags you in the image. Even if they don't tag you, Facebook will gently suggest that they do. Your friend figures, "Why not?" And there it shows up on your timeline. So what happens next?

How Facebook Uses the Tag 

Facebook integrates the tag with your profile picture, with other images you have shared, and with other pictures you've been tagged in. In other words, they cast a wide net. Once the net has been cast, Facebook's facial recognition software kicks in, using a proprietary algorithm that's been designed to create a template or number based on all this information.

The next time someone else posts a photo with you in it, Facebook's algorithm has that much more data to draw on to find you that much more easily. It notifies those friends, they tag you, and then more images drop into your database. Facebook will do the same for you as you post photos of your friends. It's a never-ending domino effect.

Turning Facial Recognition Off

Until recently, much to the chagrin of many Facebook users, all of this happened automatically unless you took the steps to prevent it. Beginning in September 2019, though, the default setting for new users' facial recognition was "off." Users who were on the platform before that should confirm their settings.

If the facial recognition feature is turned on, once you've been tagged in a single image, or you use a profile image of your face, Facebook will attempt to tag your name on any other images uploaded to the site. If you don't want your name and photo popping up unbeknownst to you all over social media, you can choose to opt right back out and turn off the feature.

  1. Click on the small inverted triangle icon at the top right of your Facebook page to open the drop-down menu. Click on "Settings."
  2. Next, select "Face Recognition" from the panel that appears on the left side of the new page.
  3. Select "Yes" or "No" to turn the feature on or off.

Steps for Undoing Tagging 

Under Facebook's new settings, which merge facial recognition and tagging features, turning off facial recognition should prevent any friends from tagging you in photos. But, to be sure, you should also edit your tagging settings. Here's how to turn off, opt out, and stop those automatic name tags from appearing in Facebook pictures:

  1. From the same settings page, select "Timeline and Tagging" from the left-side panel. "Tagging" will appear at the top of the second section of the next page that opens. 
  2. Two questions will appear here. The first asks you who you want to see posts that you're tagged in. Click on "Edit" next to the question, then on the "Friends" icon. Then you'll be given the option of selecting what friends you want to see these posts, and you can change "Friends" to "Only me."
  3. Review the second question and adjust your settings accordingly.

You'll have other options on the "Friends" drop-down menu as well, and you can customize your selections if you only want certain people to be able to see the tags. 

Other Privacy Tips 

That same settings page also allows you to edit a variety of options regarding who can post on your timeline and who sees those posts. Be sure to review all of these options and select the options that reflect your comfort level.

Changing your Facebook privacy settings will not automatically delete any tags that have already been added to existing photos. You can delete them manually by hovering over an image, selecting "Options" and then "Remove tag." You can find all the photos and videos you're tagged in within your activity log, where you can remove multiple tags at once.

Other Concerns With Facial Recognition

Concerns over facial recognition extend beyond individual user privacy. Many government officials and others are wary that the imperfect artificial intelligence behind it will negatively affect women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups.

There are already reports of facial recognition technology (not just Facebook's) incorrectly identifying women or people of color. Considering that companies and law enforcement agencies are using the technology for surveillance, this could be problematic. This may add more rationale for users to consider turning off the feature.

The Positives

Facebook's facial recognition technology is garnering some positive reviews, though. Beginning in 2018, Facebook made its platform more accessible for blind or visually-impaired users by using its existing face recognition technology to identify people in photographs.

Using artificial intelligence, Facebook's alt-text tool describes scenery, objects, animals, and people in photographs to visually impaired users. Previously, these users could only discover the number of people present in a photo, not their identities. Now—regardless of whether people are tagged—users know which friends are in each image. 

Advocates of the technology cite these and other potential positives as reasons to keep using and improving it. Facebook users will have to decide for themselves whether those positives are worth it.