I forgot to set the alarm this morning, but I needn’t have worried. Facebook woke me with an email instead, and said they wanted my face. If you have an account, then they’ll want pictures of your face too.

What’s changed, you might say; didn’t they always reserve the right to use my image as and when they saw fit?

Not comprehensively enough as it turns out. Facebook settled a lawsuit in the US last week with users who appeared unwittingly in adverts for products they hadn’t agreed to endorse. They’ll receive $15 each in compensation.

However, under new terms and conditions being consulted on from yesterday, Facebook are reserving the right to begin this for all users, without an opt-out being available.

The scenario runs something like this: on Monday you buy some trainers on a website; on Tuesday your best friend sees your name and face next to them in an ad; and on Wednesday it’s accompanied by a picture of you wearing them nearby. Facebook will have drawn all the information together automatically.

They also want to perform facial recognition on their entire collection of profile pictures. It will allow them to create the closest we have to a comprehensive catalogue of the world’s population.

An extract from the amended Data Use Policy.
The advertising section has been completely rewritten.

Facebook’s struggle for profitability (unusual for a firm that holds a near monopoly in its field) is the core reason for the expansion into data vacuuming. Interestingly, even Facebook are struggling to come up with enough ways to use the unprecedented variety of information they now hold.

In my case, they know where I go (on my phone), what I’m browsing (every “Like” button reports back, even when you don’t click*), and now through facial recognition the things I do and with whom.

It’s difficult to see how these by-products of using their excellent social networking service will ultimately benefit us. We are being asked to take it on faith.

Using Facebook is all but compulsory; we know it, and they know that we know it. If you bother to read the amended terms today, be sure to look at the 13,000 almost exclusively negative comments beneath. Just don’t be under any illusions that you or I can refuse.

The proposed changes are detailed here.

* We have a “Like” button too (see below), so you are being tracked right now.