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TMCNet:  Facebook's new Photo Sync offers convenience for users, and more valuable data to the company

[December 04, 2012]

Facebook's new Photo Sync offers convenience for users, and more valuable data to the company

Dec 04, 2012 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Facebook has begun offering an optional feature called Photo Sync that will automatically upload photos from iPhones or Android smartphones, saving them in a private album until the user decides to share them with friends.

While the new feature offers a convenient way to upload photos and store them online, some analysts said Monday that the pictures could also provide Facebook with a new and valuable trove of information about users' locations and interactions with friends -- even if they're never shared with anyone else.

"That's not to say they will ever become public. But you are still sharing them with Facebook's servers," said Graham Cluley, a senior consultant with the security software firm Sophos.

Facebook could potentially analyze the photos for geo-location codes, or even use facial recognition software -- which already lets users "tag" friends who appear in their photos -- to provide more data for the algorithms that Facebook uses to tailor each user's stream of friends' updates and advertising messages, added Cluley, who raised the issue on Sophos's security blog Monday.

Just how the social network's privacy policy might apply to such data is unclear. A Facebook representative said she was checking Monday but had no immediate comment. Facebook uses a variety of other data to deliver targeted messages, although it promises not to divulge any identifying information without a user's consent.

The world's biggest social network began testing Photo Sync over the summer and announced Friday that it will be offered on most mobile devices using Google's (GOOG) Android or Apple's (AAPL) iOS operating system. The feature is similar in some respects to a service called Instant Upload that Google offers on its own network, Google+.

Facebook is already one of the world's biggest repositories for digital photos: Its members upload more than 300 million pictures every day to share with online friends. The company has been working hard to make its network even more attractive to mobile users and advertisers, by acquiring the mobile photo-sharing service Instagram and developing other new features.

In a promotional video, Facebook touts Photo Sync as an easy way to upload pictures, particularly when someone takes multiple photos at a social gathering or other event, and still keep them private until that person decides later which ones to delete or share.

The uploads occur automatically, although the feature can be turned off any time. Facebook says it will store up to two gigabytes of photos.

Cluley praised Facebook for letting users "opt in" to the new feature, rather than imposing it by default, and for providing controls to adjust how it affects battery usage and data transmission, so they don't get hit with a big wireless bill.

But he noted that, when a user enables the feature on a smartphone, it automatically uploads the last 20 photos as well as all subsequent photos taken with that device. He cautioned that the company could use data from the pictures to deliver ads based on a person's location or other information, "which you may not realize you are sharing." Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.

___ (c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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