Facebook Says It Will Shut Down Facial Recognition System

Some limited uses for Facebook's facial recognition software will remain, however.

In what may be the ultimate about-face, Facebook said Tuesday it will delete the face scan data of more than a billion people ― and shut down its facial recognition program entirely.

The social media company has long used facial recognition software to automatically identify people in photos and videos, then prompt users to tag those identified. Following Tuesday’s announcement, that feature will be shuttered.

The decision will also affect automatic alt text, or AAT, a technology that creates image descriptions for blind and visually impaired people. Moving forward, AAT will no longer attempt to identify people in photos but should otherwise function normally, Facebook said.

Some limited uses for facial recognition will also remain.

Jerome Pesenti, Facebook’s vice president for artificial intelligence, said users might still use the technology to gain access to a locked account, for instance, or to verify their identity to access sensitive financial information.

“These are places where facial recognition is both broadly valuable to people and socially acceptable, when deployed with care,” Pesenti said in a blog post discussing the decision.

A spokesperson told HuffPost there was no one reason behind the timing of the decision, which comes at a turbulent time for the company. Facebook has been rocked by damaging revelations over the last month following the release of thousands of documents by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Facebook rebranded itself as Meta last week and announced a heavy pivot to virtual reality, in what critics contend is an attempt to deflect attention from the leaks.

Tuesday’s announcement only affects Facebook, which means other Meta products, like Instagram, may still use facial recognition software.

In 2019, Facebook turned its facial recognition technology “off” by default, requiring users to explicitly opt in, after the company failed to get a class-action lawsuit dismissed accusing it of illegally collecting and storing biometric data.

“This biometric data is so sensitive that if it is compromised, there is simply no recourse,” Shawn Williams, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action suit, said at the time. “It’s not like a Social Security card or credit card number where you can change the number. You can’t change your face.”

More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users proceeded to opt in, the company said. The company settled the lawsuit for $650 million earlier this year.

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