The number of Facebook users in the United States has plummeted from 155,2 million users in May to 149,4 in early June. Six million accounts have been closed by their owners in the US. In addition Canada seems to follow the same trend, where the number of users choosing to opt out of the social network is on the rise. Whilst Facebook faces problems, Linked In and Twitter have rapidly gained popularity, with the latter becoming the second most popular social network in the US, UK, Germany, France and Australia. Analysts associate the abrupt cancellation of the US and Canadian accounts with the fact that many former students looking for their first job, prefer to opt out from social networks in order to avoid embarrassing photos from falling in the hands of prospective employers.
A considerable number of users are also growing uncomfortable with the face-recognition feature introduced by Facebook in December 2010, which allows automatic tagging of photos through the use of the social network picture database. In early June, EU data protection regulators have announced the opening of an enquiry about Facebook’s face-recognition software, whilst a US privacy group is preparing to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
Mr Gérard Lommel, a Luxembourg member of the “Article 29 Data Protection Working Party”, said that they are also looking into the photo-tagging function on the world’s most popular social networking service.
“Tags of people on pictures should only be allowed based on people’s prior consent and it shouldn’t be activated by default,” said Mr. Lommel. Such automatic tagging suggestions “can bear a lot of risks for users” and the European data protection officials will “make it evident with Facebook that this practice must change.”
It is evident that data protection represents a sensitive issue which could undermine the sustainability and growth of Facebook, and social networking in general. In order to retain its current market share, it is imperative for Facebook to tackle this issue.