Why Facebook is shutting down facial recognition system and what it means for users


Facebook, the technology giant, has announced that it will discontinue its Facial Recognition System, which can automatically recognize people in images and videos shared on the social network.

This move to shut down the system was announced in a blog post by Jerome Pesenti, artificial intelligence vice president at Meta, Facebook’s newly named parent company.

The company plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system and delete the face scan data of more than one billion users, ending a feature that has sparked privacy concerns, government probes, and regulatory issues.

This unprecedented announcement comes in the wake of increased scrutiny over the potential real-world consequences of this data available through its social platforms.

Facebook is shutting down its facial recognition systems, the company announces
Jerome Pesenti, artificial intelligence vice president at Meta

According to Jerome Pesenti, the world’s largest social network will shut down its facial-recognition system “as part of a company-wide move to limit the usage of facial recognition in our products” in the coming weeks.

He added that the software was still a valuable tool for the company but that “any new technology has the potential for both benefits and concerns, and we want to find the appropriate balance.”

The company also stated that it intends to continue to work on facial recognition technology and may utilize it in the future in its products, which vary from social networks to a futuristic set of picture-taking spectacles.

Facial recognition technology

The latest announcement coming from Facebook brings an end to a technology it launched in 2010. The company has stated that facial technology will help users save time and make it easier to tag individuals in a digital photograph.

Facebook’s facial-recognition software works by recognizing people in users’ digital photo albums and proposes that they “tag” them all with a single click, tying their accounts to the photographs. Partially thanks to this software, Facebook has grown to become one of the world’s largest collections of digital images.

Concerns over Facial Recognition Technology

Due to the improved accuracy and strength of Facebook’s facial technology in recent years, it has become a serious topic of concern because of how governments, law enforcement, and businesses can misuse this technology.

Facebook is shutting down its facial recognition systems, the company announces
Image Source; BBC

Authorities in China employ these skills to track and control the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority. Law enforcement in the United States has also turned to the use of this software to enhance policing, raising concerns about overreach and erroneous arrests.

Facebook has claimed it did not sell its facial-recognition software to third parties and solely used it on its own site. Despite this, the function has turned into a privacy and regulatory nightmare for the company several times.

Privacy troubles over facial recognition software

Facebook isn’t the first big tech corporation to back away from facial recognition technology. In recent years, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have also suspended or stopped selling facial recognition software to law enforcement.

The reasons behind this have been cited as privacy and algorithmic bias issues as well as an advocation for clearer regulation.

Facebook’s facial recognition software has a long and expensive history. When the software was rolled out across Europe in 2011, data protection authorities there said the move was illegal and that the company needed consent to analyze photos of a person.

Privacy advocates have questioned how much facial data Facebook has acquired over the years and what the firm could do with it on several occasions.

There have also been concerns over how start-ups and other entities can utilize images of faces obtained on social media to train facial-recognition software.

The facial recognition software was one of the issues raised by the Federal Trade Commission when it fined Facebook a record $5 billion to settle privacy complaints in 2019.

Last year, Facebook also agreed to pay $650 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in Illinois, alleging that the firm had broken a state law requiring individuals’ authorization to use biometric data, including their “facial geometry.”

How this affects Facebook users

According to Pesenti, removing Facebook’s facial recognition system would result in a variety of changes for its users.

Facebook is shutting down its facial recognition systems, the company announces

This will include the site no longer automatically recognizing if people’s faces appear in photographs or videos, and users will no longer be able to switch it on for photo tag suggestions.

The company plans to remove the template that was previously used to identify users who have utilized the setting.

Also, the change will affect the automatic alt text feature, which generates image descriptions for blind and visually impaired people.

The descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos, but will otherwise operate normally.

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