Facebook to shut down controversial facial recognition

·3-min read
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced plans to ditch face recognition technology used on the Facebook app. (Source: Getty)

Facebook will all but dump its controversial facial-recognition technology, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing societal concerns about its use.

The technology automatically identifies users in photos and videos but Facebook announced on Tuesday it would delete more than 1 billion already-existing users' facial templates.

It follows a class action lawsuit in the US in which a federal judge approved a settlement in Illinois of $650 million against Facebook for allegedly using face-tagging and other biometric data without users’ permission.

Lawyers and privacy advocates have been campaigning against the technology for years and have accused the company of misrepresenting the system to people using the social media platform.

However, facial recognition will not be dumped entirely, with the controversial technology still to be used but only for “narrow” purposes, Jerome Pesenti, vice-president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

"Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” he wrote.

"Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate."

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 29: In this photo illustration, the Meta logo is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a Facebook logo on October 29, 2021 in Paris, France. On October 28, during the Facebook Connect virtual conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the name change of Facebook, believing that the term Facebook was too closely linked to that of the platform of the same name, launched in 2004. It is now official, the Facebook company changes its name and becomes Meta. (Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Facebook has officially changed its name to Meta to reflect its move towards a new virtual future. (Source: Getty)

He added that more than a third of Facebook users had opted in to use facial-recognition technology.

The decision comes just a week after the company announced it would change its name to Meta, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg said reflected the company’s future as a ‘metaverse’ - a series of interconnected, persistent virtual worlds that let people interact with digital objects and avatars.

The removal of face recognition by the world's largest social media platform comes as the tech industry continues to face a reckoning over the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say facial-recognition technology could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance.

The technology will be limited to certain services such as helping people gain access to their locked accounts or unlock a personal device, Facebook said in the blog post.

The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December.

Facebook has been rocked by multiple scandals in the past few years over the ethics, safety and privacy of its products, including Instagram.

A former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently told US Congress Facebook consistently prized growing profits over tackling hate speech, misinformation and other threats to democracy and to the public.

In September, internal research on Instagram and its negative impact on teenage girls’ mental health was leaked.

Facebook said facial-recognition technology had many benefits, such as providing image descriptions for people who were visually impaired.

The technology is also popular with retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes.

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