Meta, formally known as Facebook shuts down facial recognition system. It’ll delete the “faceprints” of more than 1bn Facebook users over the coming weeks. Due to this move, people will no longer be automatically recognized in videos, memories, and photos across Facebook. This move is coming after a lawsuit accused Facebook’s tagging tech of violating Illinois’ biometric privacy law, which led to a $650 million settlement in February 2021. It was in 2018 that this case became a class-action lawsuit. However, Facebook made its facial recognition on the platform as opt-in only in 2019.
This change will also impact image descriptions for blind and visually impaired people since Automatic Alt Text (ATT) descriptions will no longer include people’s names from videos and photos on Facebook.
This change represents a more significant shift in facial recognition usage, removing over a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates from the Facebook database. Although facial recognition technology is highly valued in various cases, Meta stated that benefits have to be weighed against growing societal concerns. Additionally, the laws regarding this technology are unclear since regulators have yet to provide a set of rules for its use.
Facebook limiting its facial recognition technology will also affect services where people can verify the identity for financial products, gain access to a locked account, or unlock a personal device. The company, however, would continue working on limited but valuable use cases while ensuring that society and people have transparency and control over their right to be automatically recognized in memories, videos, and pictures.
“Making this change required us to weigh the instances where facial recognition can be helpful against the growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole,” said Jason Grosse, a Meta spokesman. He also added that Meta has also not ruled out incorporating facial recognition technology into future products.
In this company-wide move, Meta will delete the identification templates of all people who have opted for face recognition. Facebook users will no longer be able to turn on face recognition or see a suggested tag with their name in photos, memories, and videos that they appear in. Although Facebook will delete the digital scans of facial features by December, it will not eliminate DeepFace, the software that powers the facial recognition system.
Jerome Presenti, Meta’s vice president of artificial intelligence, stated that facial recognition is valuable. However, it requires strict transparency and privacy controls so people can choose how their faces are used and recognized. He also stated that it’s best to limit facial recognition technology for a narrow set of use cases because of the ongoing uncertainty. Presenti said that face recognition is most valuable when data is not connected to a cloud server and only operates on personal devices such as unlocking smartphones or laptops.
By shutting down the Face Recognition tagging program that Facebook has used for years, Meta hopes to reinforce user confidence in its privacy protections as it prepares a rollout of potentially privacy-compromising augmented and virtual reality technology. Earlier this year, Facebook launched a pair of camera-equipped smart glasses with Ray-Ban and is gradually launching 3D virtual worlds on its Meta VR headset platform. Promoting these products and technology requires the company to garner a level of trust from regulators and users, and giving up Facebook auto-tagging after a lengthy legal battle seems a straightforward way to bolster it.