Facebook Will Scan Your Camera Roll for Photos of Your Friends

November 9, 2015, 10:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Facebook

Facebook is taking its reach into its users’ lives to a new level.

The social network has begun testing a new feature, dubbed “Photo Magic,” which will scan a user’s camera roll on their smartphone and notify them when it finds a photo of their Facebook friends they haven’t uploaded yet. Photo Magic uses the same facial recognition technology behind its photo tagging suggestions and its experimental photo app, Moments.

When Facebook finds one of these photos, it will send a push notification to the user’s smartphone, prompting them to share it with the friends it has identified via its Messenger app (private messages, not public posts on Facebook). It will only share it if the user taps the “Send” button.

Facebook won’t scan all the photos in a user’s camera roll, nor will it send notifications for every photo it finds. The feature will seek to strike the right balance and ping the user just at the right frequency. The feature and Messenger’s access to their camera roll is also entirely optional—users can turn these on or off.

The idea here is likely to help Facebook compete with social apps like Snapchat, where exchanges between users center around photos they send to each other. Photo-sharing is already a popular function of Messenger—last month, users sent more than 9.5 billion photos through the app, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

However, the new feature will likely raise concerns over privacy as Facebook tries to gain access to user’s digital content outside its own walls. Even its photo-tagging suggestions, which help users tag photos they upload to Facebook by sensing that this face is Jill or Jack, isn’t available in Canada and the European Union because it was deemed too intrusive. To be fair, Facebook says that users have the ability to control whether their face is recognized in their friends’ photos, although the feature is still likely to concern many.

Photo Magic is currently only available to Android users in Australia, with an iOS version coming soon. If the test goes well, the feature is slated to roll out in the U.S. “soon,” according to Messenger chief David Marcus.

(The story has been updated with clarification about the feature being optional for users.)

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