Facebook ends its facial identification system

PROVIDENCE, RI – Facebook has announced that it will shut down its facial recognition system and remove the facial prints of more than a billion people amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse by governments, police and others.

“This change will represent one of the most significant changes in the use of facial recognition in the history of the technology,” wrote on Tuesday Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for the new parent company of Facebook. , Meta, in a blog post. “Its removal will result in the removal of over a billion individual facial recognition models of people.”

He said the company was trying to weigh the technology’s positive use cases “against growing societal concerns, especially since regulators have yet to set clear rules.”

Facebook’s about-face follows a few busy weeks. On Thursday, he announced his new name – Meta – for Facebook Inc. the company, but not the social network. The change, he said, will help him focus on creating technology for what he sees as the next iteration of the Internet – the “metaverse”.

The company is also facing its biggest public relations crisis to date after leaked documents by whistleblower Frances Haugen showed she was aware of the damage her products were causing and often did. little or nothing to mitigate them.

Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about how people could verify that their image data had been deleted, or what it would do with the underlying technology.

More than a third of daily active Facebook users have chosen to have their faces recognized by the social network system. But Facebook has recently started cutting back on its use of facial recognition after introducing it more than a decade ago.

In 2019, the company ended its practice of using facial recognition software to identify users’ friends in uploaded photos and automatically suggest that they “tag” them. Facebook was also sued in Illinois for the tag suggestion feature.

The decision “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the business,” said Kristen Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. She added that the move also demonstrates the power of public and regulatory pressure, as the facial recognition system has come under heavy criticism for more than a decade.

Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc. appears to be considering new forms of identifying people. Pesenti said Tuesday’s announcement implied a “company-wide evolution of this type of broad identification and towards narrower forms of personal authentication.”

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

Apple, in fact, uses this type of technology to power its Face ID system to unlock iPhones.

Researchers and privacy activists have spent years raising questions about the industry’s use of facial scanning software technology, citing studies that found it to work in a way unequal across lines of race, sex or age. One concern has been that the technology may incorrectly identify people with darker skin.


Another problem with facial recognition is that in order to use it, companies had to create unique fingerprints of a large number of people – often without their consent and in a way that fed into people tracking systems, Nathan Wessler said. of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought Facebook and other companies for their use of technology.

“It is an extremely significant recognition that this technology is inherently dangerous,” he said.

Concerns have also grown over growing awareness of the Chinese government’s extensive CCTV system, especially since it is used in an area home to one of China’s largely Muslim ethnic minority populations.

At least seven states and nearly two dozen cities have limited government use of technology amid fears about civil rights violations, racial prejudice and invasion of privacy. Debate over additional bans, limits and reporting requirements has been ongoing in about 20 state capitals this legislative session, according to data compiled by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in May of this year.


The huge repository of images shared by Facebook users has helped make it a powerhouse for improving computer vision, a branch of artificial intelligence. Today, many of those research teams have refocused on Meta’s ambitions for augmented reality technology, as the company hopes its future users will don glasses to experience a mix of virtual and physical worlds. These technologies, in turn, could pose new concerns about how people’s biometric data is collected and tracked.

Meta’s newly cautious approach to facial recognition follows decisions by other US tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM last year to end or suspend sales of facial recognition software at police, citing concerns about false identifications and amid a broader US awareness about the police and racial injustice.

Facebook’s facial analysis practices also contributed to the $ 5 billion fine and privacy restrictions the Federal Trade Commission imposed on the company in 2019. Facebook’s settlement with the FTC after the The agency’s year-long investigation included a promise to require “clear and visible” notice before photos of people. and the videos have been subjected to facial recognition technology.

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