Facebook to shut down its facial recognition software

Facebook services that rely on face recognition systems will be removed over the coming weeks

Facebook few weeks ago announced its plans to shut down the facial recognition program and delete the stored data gathered by the software and which is associated with users’ faces.

The social media empire, whose parent company is now named Meta, announced that more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into the ‘Face Recognition’ setting and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s facial recognition templates.

“Making this change required careful consideration because we have seen a number of places where face recognition can be highly valued by people using platforms. For example, our award-winning automatic alt text system, that uses advanced AI to generate descriptions of images for people who are blind and visually impaired, uses the Face Recognition system to tell them when they or one of their friends is in an image” said Jerome Pesenti, VP of Facebook Artificial Intelligence on a blog post.

The facial recognition software gave users the option to be automatically notified when they appear in photos or videos posted by other Facebook users and provided recommendations for who to tag in photos. This technology was introduced in December 2010 and played a significant role in developing one of the largest repositories of digital photos in the world, owned by Facebook.

As Jerome Pesenti clarified, “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. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts”.

Facebook has recently come under fire for the facial recognition software, with analysts and experts criticizing the company for saying that user data may be misused.

“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 declared. “Facial recognition can be particularly valuable when the technology operates privately on a person’s own devices. This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most deployed today in the systems used to unlock smartphones” he explained.

In 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission imposed a fine on Facebook for several issues, and the face recognition software was a certain source of concern. Last year, the company agreed to pay $ 650 million to settle a case in Illinois, as it was accused of violating the state law that requires residents’ consent to use their biometric features, including facial geometry.

“We believe this has the potential to enable positive use cases in the future that maintain privacy, control, and transparency, and it’s an approach we’ll continue to explore as we consider how our future computing platforms and devices can best serve people’s needs,” said Jerome Pesenti. “Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance. In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it. We will continue engaging in that conversation and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion” he added.

Facebook also announced that services that rely on the face recognition software will be removed over the coming weeks.

George Mavridis is a freelance journalist and writer based in Greece. His work primarily covers tech, innovation, social media, digital communication, and politics. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication. Also, he holds an MA in Media and Communication Studies from the Malmö University of Sweden and an MA in Digital Humanities from the Linnaeus University of Sweden.