Facebook will shut down face recognition system and delete face-print data for 1 billion users

Facebook will shut down its face recognition system and delete facial impressions from more than 1 billion people due to growing concern about the technology and its abuses.

“This change will represent one of the biggest shifts in the use of face recognition in the history of technology,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta, wrote in a blog post.

Sir. Pesenti said the company was trying to weigh the positive uses of the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have not yet provided clear rules”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks
The announcement comes amid a crisis for Facebook as it faces increased legislative and regulatory scrutiny. (AP: Mark Lennihan)

The ethics of technology in the spotlight

The removal of face recognition from the world’s largest social media platform came after the industry in recent years has faced an inventory of the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say that face recognition technology, which is popular with retailers, hospitals and other companies for security reasons, can compromise privacy, target marginalized groups and normalize intrusive surveillance.

IBM has permanently stopped the sale of face recognition products, while Microsoft and Amazon have suspended the sale to the police indefinitely.

Facebook’s face recognition system was introduced more than ten years ago, and more than a third of the daily active users of the social network have chosen to have their faces recognized by the software.

But the system has long been the subject of scrutiny.

In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission included it among its concerns when it fined Facebook $ 5 billion ($ 6.75 billion) for settling privacy complaints.

The company subsequently terminated its practice of using the software to identify users’ friends on uploaded images and automatically suggest that they ‘tag’ them.

A U.S. judge this year approved Facebook’s $ 650 million ($ 875 million) settlement in a Illinois class action lawsuit over allegations that it collected and stored biometric data from users without proper consent.

The decision to scrap the software comes as the social media giant faces both a PR crisis and increased legislative and regulatory scrutiny of leaked documents called Facebook Papers.

The documents support claims that the social network has prioritized financial success over user security.

Last week, the company renamed itself Meta to focus on building technology for what it envisions as the next iteration of the Internet, the ‘meta-verse’.

Digital image of phone and face consisting of pixels
Technology companies have in recent years been exposed to increased study of the ethics of face recognition technology(Wikimedia Commons: mikemacmarketing)

‘Remarkable moment’ may not be the end of face recognition

Privacy advocates and digital rights groups have welcomed the announcement.

The decision was “a great example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the business,” said Kristen Martin, a professor of technology at the University of Notre Dame.

She said the move also demonstrates the strength of regulatory pressure, as the face recognition system had been the subject of harsh criticism for over a decade.

Alan Butler, CEO of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said “for far too long, Internet users have been abused by personal data following the whims of Facebook and other platforms.”

Adam Schwartz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that although Facebook’s action came after efforts by other technology companies, it could mark a “remarkable moment in the national turn away from face recognition”.

But Meta Platforms Inc, Facebook’s parent company, seems to be looking at new forms of person identification.

Sir. Pesenti said Tuesday’s announcement involved a “company-wide move away from this form of broad identification and towards narrower forms of personal authentication”.

The company did not rule out using face recognition technology in other products, saying it still saw it as a “powerful tool”, for example for identity verification.

“Face recognition can be especially valuable when the technology works privately on a person’s own devices,” he wrote.

ABC / wires

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