Facebook to abolish facial recognition system

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FILED - A massive data leak of email addresses and phone numbers from Facebook will make it easier for email scammers to pretend to be someone you know, internet security experts fear. Photo: Uli Deck/dpa
FILED - A massive data leak of email addresses and phone numbers from Facebook will make it easier for email scammers to pretend to be someone you know, internet security experts fear. Photo: Uli Deck/dpa

Facebook has announced this week that it is shutting down its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing societal concerns about the use of such technology.

“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, wrote in a blog post. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

The removal of face recognition by the world’s largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning over the past few years over the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say facial recognition technology, which is popular among retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes, could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance. IBM has permanently ended facial recognition product sales, and Microsoft and Amazon.com have suspended sales to police indefinitely.

The news also comes as Facebook has been under intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.

The company, which last week renamed itself Meta Platforms, said more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site, and the change will now delete the “facial recognition templates” of more than a billion people.

Powerful tool

The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesman said.

Facebook did not rule out using facial recognition technology in other products, saying it still sees it as a “powerful tool” for identity verification for example.

The company’s facial recognition software has long been the subject of scrutiny. The US Federal Trade Commission included it among the concerns when it fined Facebook US$5-billion to settle privacy complaints in 2019.

A judge this year approved Facebook’s $650-million settlement of a class action in Illinois over allegations it collected and stored biometric data of users without proper consent.

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