Facebook’s 400m photo shared Moments app gets video support feature
Facebook Moments crosses the 400m mark in photos shared Facebook

Facebook has rolled out a modified version of its private photo-sharing app, Facebook Moments, in the European Union (EU) and Canada on 10 May without its biggest feature. While the version released in the US last June has facial recognition baked in to automatically identify who is in the photos, the European version does not.

The original version of Moments allows users to easily share images of their friends and family by scanning photos for individuals. For example, if you go to a wedding you could effortlessly pick out all the photos taken of the bride and groom, group them together and share them with others.

However, the social media giant had to wait to launch the app in Europe and Canada because regulators expressed concerns that the photo-tagging system violates privacy laws in the region. Instead, they asked the site to give users a way to opt out of having their faces scanned.

Rather than giving users an opt-out choice, the new European version has done away with the facial recognition feature altogether. Facebook says the modified version uses a form of object recognition that observes features like the distance between a person's eyes and ears rather than unique facial features. The app will also group photos that "appear to include the same face".

Besides making the app a bit more labour-intensive for users, the modified feature is not as accurate.

The tweaked version of Moments will also have a "Who's this?" feature to tag friends and will still keep a tab on location, date and time. Users can still decide whether they want their photos shared with others or if they prefer to have them remain private.

"Our primary purpose is to solve a problem that we know that people have, where they never get the photos that their friends take of them," Will Ruben, the app's product manager, told the BBC. "We view that as a pretty different type of sharing than might happen on Facebook, where people share photos more broadly with a large group of friends or even publicly."

In December, Facebook did away with its Photo Sync tool in favour of Moments, redirecting users towards the new app to create and share photo albums on the popular site. More than 600 million photos have been shared via Moments so far, Facebook said.

The new version comes on the heels of another legal battle for Facebook regarding the legality of its photo-tagging software.

Last week, a US district court ruled that the social network will have to face a class action lawsuit from Illinois Facebook users challenging its use of facial recognition software and storage of biometric data mined from people's photographs without prior notification or permission. Google is also facing similar lawsuits over Google Photos, which has several similar features as Facebook Moments.

The new Moments app is available for free on both iOS and Android in the EU and Canada.