Meta, the newly-named parent company of Facebook, announced it will shut down Facebook’s face-recognition system Tuesday. As part of the shutdown, Meta said it will delete the faceprints of more than 1 billion people.
“People who have opted in to our Face Recognition setting will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos,” Meta Vice President of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti wrote in a Tuesday news release. “This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history.”
According to Meta, more than a third of daily active Facebook users have opted in to the face-recognition system. That’s about 640 million people. Meta’s decision comes amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse by governments, police and others.
“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,” Pesenti wrote. “This includes services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device.”
Tuesday’s announcement was the latest Facebook effort to scale back use of its face-recognition system. Back in 2019, Facebook ended its practice of using the software to identify users’ friends in uploaded photos and suggesting the users “tag” their friends. Facebook was sued in Illinois over the tag suggestion feature.
“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,” Pesenti wrote. “We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts.”
The move to shut down Facebook’s face-recognition system caps off what has been a PR nightmare of a month for Facebook. Just about a month ago, whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked documents showing that Facebook had known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them. Haugen has since testified in front of both Congress and the British parliament on the subject.
“Facebook is the world’s social media platform and they are being accused of creating something that is harmful to people and society,” marketing consultant Laura Ries said last month. “They can’t walk away from the social network with a new corporate name and talk of a future metaverse.”