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German Regulator Suspends Facebook Facial-Recognition Probe

A German privacy regulator suspended its probe of Facebook Inc.’s facial-recognition features pending an Irish audit of how the social-media company handles personal data.

Hamburg’s data-protection authority said it will wait for Facebook to negotiate with Ireland’s privacy regulator before deciding whether Facebook complies with rules for using biometric data in an application that suggests people to tag in photos on the social-networking site.

Facebook is overhauling its service in Europe following an investigation by Irish regulators. Facebook’s Ireland operation is responsible for all the Palo Alto, California-based company’s users outside the U.S. and Canada. The Hamburg authority started legal action against Facebook last year for not informing users or seeking user consent before introducing the facial-recognition feature.

“Facebook informed the Hamburg data-protection authority that it has entered into negotiations with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s Office on changing the way it implements automatic facial-recognition features,” said Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data-protection representative, in a statement on the agency’s website yesterday.

Hamburg may restart its probe if Facebook doesn’t “allow users more influence over the way their data is handled,” Caspar said. The German regulator previously criticized Irish recommendations to Facebook as “unclear.” It can enforce data-protection rules in matters that affect German users, the authority says.

Tina Kulow, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment on the Hamburg regulator’s statement.

Data protection rules are currently policed by separate regulators across the European Union’s 27-nation bloc. The EU’s executive body wants to simplify the system so companies deal with one supervisor for data protection issues in the zone, instead of several.

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