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Facebook Facial Recognition

In a preview of how Facebook Inc. FB 2.32% is changing its privacy policies, the site this week will start asking European users for permission to use their personal data to power features like facial recognition and some forms of targeted advertising.

Even with the updates, opting out of those features will remain more difficult than sharing such information with the social-media giant.

As part of the changes, Facebook will this week begin to prompt its users in Europe to decide whether they would like to see targeted ads based on political, religious and relationship details they share on their profiles or from data collected by some of Facebook’s external partners. Facebook will also ask users to explicitly allow the company to use its facial-recognition technology, which the company relies on to identify people in images.

Facebook said it would allow users in the U.S. and the rest of the world to review those details in coming months.

The moves are part of Facebook’s requirement to address tougher European data-use laws taking effect next month, but also reflect its broader push to allay user concerns over the company’s handling of their personal information. Those concerns mounted following Facebook’s disclosure last month that Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics firm that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign, bought Facebook data belonging to tens of millions of users.

A rendering of Facebook privacy settings show the app asking users about facial recognition. Photo: Facebook

Since that scandal broke, company executives including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg have repeatedly said that users have full control over their data.

But even after the latest changes, users who don’t want to give Facebook access to their data must go through a few more steps before Facebook accepts their decision, according to mock-ups of the permission screens shown to reporters Tuesday and unveiled to users on Wednesday.

Facebook hasn’t built a way for users to decline to provide more data with a single tap. Instead, its permission screens include an “accept and continue” button in bright blue and a more subtle white button called “manage settings” for those who don’t want to provide the site with more information.

In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, Facebook officials acknowledged that it took more steps to refrain from sharing data, but argued that the options were clear. “For people who want to go through and accept these, they’d be able to do that,” Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said. ”If people don’t want to accept that, it’s easy to do that as well. The choices are accept and continue or manage settings.”

The changes are the latest in a series the company has made in recent months to comply with the new European data-use law, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which goes into effect May 25. Passed in 2016 after more than four years of debate, the new law tightens privacy restrictions on any company that collects or uses data about anyone in the European Union.

Facebook’s new consent boxes aren’t likely to shield the company from scrutiny. One major issue that privacy activists raise: The company doesn’t offer a way to opt out of the company’s collection of data about its users when they aren’t on Facebook, even if it offers a way for them to turn off targeted ads based on that information.

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