Have you ever used a facial recognition program? Saying it wants “to find the right balance” with the technology, the social network will delete the face scan data of more than one billion users.
Facebook plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system this month, deleting the face scan data of more than one billion users and effectively eliminating a feature that has fueled privacy concerns, government investigations, a class-action lawsuit, and regulatory woes.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Meta, Facebook’s newly named parent company, said that the social network was making the change because of “many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society.” He added that the company still saw the software as a powerful tool, but “every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance.”
Facial recognition program: New move by Facebook
Facebook said Tuesday it plans to stop using facial-recognition software that could automatically recognize people in photos and videos posted on the social network, marking a massive shift both for the tech industry and a company known for collecting vast amounts of data about its billions of users. Facebook, which changed its company name to Meta in late October, also said it plans to delete the data it had gathered through its use of this software, associated with over a billion people’s faces.
The move, announced in a blog post authored by artificial intelligence vice president Jerome Pesenti, comes as the company is widely scrutinized for the potential real-world harms of its social platforms in the wake of a whistleblower’s leak of hundreds of internal documents.
Pesenti wrote that the world’s largest social network will shutter its facial-recognition system in the coming weeks “as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products.”
Facebook will still be working on facial recognition technology, however, and may use it in its products — ranging from social networks to a futuristic pair of picture-taking glasses — in the future.” Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity, or to prevent fraud and impersonation,” Pesenti wrote.
Meta: Name is new, but Data is still Old.
“There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” wrote Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook’s newly named parent company, Meta. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”
Pesenti said the change also means that automatic descriptions of photos for blind and visually impaired people will no longer include the names of people in the images.
The move marks a significant shift away from a controversial technology that Facebook has incorporated in its products, giving users the option to receive automatic notifications when they appear in photos and videos posted by others. But facial recognition technology, which converts face scans into identifiable data, has become a growing privacy and civil rights concern. For example, technology is prone to mistakes involving people of color. In one study, 28 members of Congress, roughly 40% of whom were people of color, were incorrectly matched with arrest mugshots on a screen as part of a test that the American Civil Liberties Union conducted using technology made by Amazon.
Earlier this year, a judge approved a $650 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving Facebook’s facial recognition technology in its photo-tagging feature. The feature generates suggested tags by scanning previously uploaded photos to match people in newly uploaded shots. The lawsuit alleged the scans were created without user consent and violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which regulates facial recognition, fingerprinting, and other biometric technologies.
Facebook has also considered building facial recognition in products such as its smart glasses. Facial recognition, for example, could be used to identify the name of people you can’t remember. But the company’s employees raised concerns that the technology could be abused by “stalkers.” As a result, Facebook’s first pair of smart glasses, the Ray-Ban Stories, doesn’t include facial recognition technology.
Privacy and civil rights groups applauded Facebook’s move on Tuesday.
The Bottom Line
Over the years, Facebook has faced many lawsuits, federal investigations in the US, and general privacy concerns over issues with facial recognition being at its center. Pesenti pointed out in the blog post: “Making this change required careful consideration because we have seen some places where face recognition can be highly valued by people using platforms.” “But the many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole.
There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate,” he added.
The New York Times report says that while Facebook plans to delete facial recognition templates by December this year, it is not eliminating DeepFace. This advanced algorithm powers the system. In addition, it cites a Meta spokesperson to say that the company has not considered incorporating facial recognition technology into future products.