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Facebook accused of massive 'data grab' with new service that automatically uploads your phone picturesPhoto Sync being aggressively promoted to Facebook's mobile app usersIt will upload every single picture taken to the social network's serversFacebook will benefit from huge windfall of data it can commercialiseIt could use that data to build detailed database of users' lives
16:02 GMT, 3 December 2012
Facebook has been accused of a massive 'data grab' after encouraging users to allow it to automatically synchronise photos from their mobile devices to the social networks servers.
The social network from Friday began asking users of its mobile apps to activate its new Photo Sync, which will automatically upload each picture to a private album.
Whether or not users decide share the photos on their public newsfeed, Facebook itself will still have access.
That means it will be able to mine those files for their metadata, including the location where the photo was taken, as well as use its facial recognition technology to spot those pictured.
Photo Sync: The new function being promoted to
users of Facebook's mobile apps will automatically upload pictures taken
from mobile devices to the company's servers – where they can be mined
As a result, over time, Facebook will be able to build up a comprehensive database of where users have been, and with whom, from information they automatically give to the company.
Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: 'This provides a stark warning about the loss of control experienced once you have installed an application to your mobile phone.
'Privacy is clearly at the very back of the Facebook's mind when creating an application that enables this kind of uploading of photographs to be easier when it, in fact, it should be made more difficult.'
The Photo Sync feature, which was
launched on Friday with no public announcement from Facebook, is being
promoted by a banner at the top of the news feed of its mobile
Once activated it allows the most recent pictures taken on users' smart phones to be background uploaded straight to a private album on Facebook's servers, where they will sit pending approval for publication.
A Q&A on Facebook's help pages stresses that the album remains private, but experts say the social network will benefit from swathes of picture metadata that will enable it to find out unprecedented details about users' lives.
At its most basic level it could enable them to tailor advertising by location. However, combined with Facebook's facial recognition technology it could also automatically find out who users have been socialising with and where.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Photo Sync
is set to provide his company with an avalanche of data it could use to build detailed pictures of users' lives
The same technology could also potentially be used for brand recognition, TechCrunch reported, allowing Facebook to even identify the types of trainers users are wearing and tailor adverts to suit.
The automatic nature of the service also suggests that Facebook is set to gain access to users' most private photos, including some that may violate its notorious terms of service.
TechCrunch writer John Constine said the service is essentially Facebook's entry into cloud storage.
'Facebook wants to help you share your life,' he wrote. 'You capture more angles and perspectives of your life through your camera than you might want to share.
'That means it can either make you decide what to upload and what to share, or eliminate the first decision, take care of that seamlessly in the background, and only ask you to choose what to publish.'
Facebook mobile app users can activate the Photo Sync function by merely clicking 'Get Started' on a banner currently displayed at the top of the newsfeed.
Once enabled, every picture taken on the device will be uploaded to the company's servers with no user interference or further approval needed.
So far the Facebook allows for about 2GB of uploads, with users having to manually delete images to upload more once the limit has been reached.
Facebook says it will 'generally try to sync your photos as soon as you take them', but the service also has a range of features to lessen its potential impact on users' phone bills and the battery life of their phones.
'When you're on a cellular network like 3G or 4G, we'll sync photos at a smaller size (around 100K each), so they're unlikely to use much of your data plan,' the company says, adding that larger versions will be synced if the device is connected to a WiFi network.
Unlike Facebook's facial-recognition technology, which was recently banned in Europe, users will have to opt in to begin using Photo Sync.
However, the potential remains that unsuspecting users will find a host of pictures uploaded to the Internet that had been intended for their eyes only.
Internet security company Sophos warned: 'You are no longer in charge of what photos you upload to Facebook.
'In the past, you could decide what images you uploaded to the social network, and which pictures it could analyse for its own purposes.
'Now, all photos – good and bad – will be available to Facebook.'
Big Brother Watch's Emma Carr added: 'This is yet another example of profit coming before privacy. If a company cares about the privacy of its customers it ensures that they are fully aware of how their information is being gathered and for what purposes.
'Companies that don't care act like Facebook.'
MailOnline contacted Facebook's representatives for comment, but none were available.