Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has announced that it’s ending the social network’s Face Recognition feature, following concerns of privacy issues and potential misuse. They state that they’ll also be deleting the individual facial recognition templates of over a billion people that they’ve garnered over the years. This comes as part of Meta’s move to limit the use of facial recognition in their products.
Facebook’s facial recognition technology had been around for a decade now, with it most prominently used in its photo-tagging feature. As the social network continued to build and improve the AI behind its facial recognition, it became not only possible for Facebook to automatically suggest the person posting a photo if they’d like to tag anyone else in the picture, but also for Facebook to notify you if a photo of you appeared elsewhere on the platform. While it’s an opt-in only feature now, Meta’s VP of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti says that over a third of Facebook’s active users still use the feature.
Nevertheless, they’re killing facial recognition as, in Pesenti’s words, they’ve seen growing concerns about the technology in society, especially as the authorities have yet to present a clear set of rules and regulations surrounding facial recognition. As such, they’ll only be allowing facial recognition to be used in very specific situations, such as helping users regain access to a locked account or when dealing with something financial related.
“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. We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used.
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.” – Jerome Pesenti
With Meta ending their facial recognition system, it’ll also have the consequential effect impacting the Automatic Alt Text (AAT) feature. AAT is a feature used to create alt texts for images to help people who are visually impaired. AAT will still be able to recognise the number of people in a photo, but won’t run it through facial recognition technology anymore.
Meta’s long statement aside, it should be noted that this was perhaps a long time coming now. Back in 2015, an attorney by the name of Jay Edelson sued Facebook over its facial recognition tagging technology in the state of Illinois, US. This was because Illinois has laws that prohibit the use of facial recognition technology under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Eventually, it became a class action lawsuit in 2018, leading Facebook to make the facial recognition technology an opt-in only feature a year later. And in February of this year, a US federal judge ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, ordering Facebook to pay up USD650 million to the over 1.6 million people in the class action lawsuit.
If you’d like to read Pesenti’s full statement on the end of their facial recognition system, you can click here to read it on the Meta blog.