Facebook Plans To Shut Down Facial Recognition System and Delete Billions of Records
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Facebook plans to shut down facial recognition system and delete billions of records. The decision comes after the social giant rebrands itself as Meta as a part of a wider initiative to limit the use of the technology across its products.

The social media giant in a blog post said, “This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history. More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”

Facebook plans to shut down its Face Recognition system in the coming weeks, this means users who have earlier opted for it will no longer be recognized automatically in Memories, photos, and videos or see suggested tags with their name in photos and videos they may appear in. 

The Automatic Alt Text (AAT) tool that creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people will also be impacted, as will no more include the names of people identified in photos.

The decision comes amidst the sustained privacy and ethical concerns raised by the use of facial recognition that it could be abused to target marginalized communities. Also leading to racial bias, and normalizing intrusive surveillance, leading to government bans across a number of cities in the U.S. such as Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Minneapolis, among others. 

Earlier in May 2021, Amazon announced it will indefinitely extend a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of its facial recognition systems.

Amazon explained the change was necessary to, “weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.” Facebook decided to continue the use of face recognition in “services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device.”

Facial recognition was introduced by Facebook in 2010, to automatically tag photos and videos with names based on a “face recognition template”, generated from users’ profile pictures as well as photos and videos they have been already tagged in. It would also notify users when they appear in multimedia content posted by other users and provide recommendations for whom to tag in the photos.

The feature was enabled by default at the launch but later was made an explicit opt-in in September 2019. The decision resulted in more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users — around 640 million people – to have opted to turn on the setting.

Meta’s current decision to do away with facial recognition appears to be a step designed to prevent any regulatory scrutiny following years of legal woes. Earlier the State of Illinois took the company to court for violating the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and using the tech to identify Illinois residents’ photos without their consent. Earlier in March, Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million to settle the class-action suit.

It also might be an attempt by Facebook to rebrand and distance itself from a wide range of controversies that have plagued its products in recent years.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation in a tweet said, “Facebook has announced they will be deleted over a billion face recognition templates as they shut down their entire face recognition system. This is great news for Facebook users, and for the global movement pushing back on this technology.”

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