Facebook shutting down its face-recognition system

Officials with Facebook on Tuesday announced that the social media giant is shutting down its facial-recognition system and deleting the data used to recognize more than a billion people amid privacy concerns surrounding the technology.

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For more than a decade, Facebook has used facial recognition technology to help users identify friends and themselves in photos and videos. More than a third of the site’s daily active users had turned on the feature, according to Facebook.

In a blog post released Tuesday, Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s newly renamed parent company, Meta, said the change is part of a “company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products.”

“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,” Pasenti said.

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“But the many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole. 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.”

For years, researchers, privacy advocates and experts have warned about the potential for abuse posed by facial-recognition technology. Studies have found that facial recognition works with varying degrees of success across the lines of race, gender or age, according to The Associated Press. Cameras using the technology have been banned by at least a dozen cities across the U.S., according to The Washington Post. The newspaper reported that the European Parliament last month called for banning the use of facial recognition in public places.

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In the years since Facebook introduced facial-recognition technology on the social media site in December 2010, capabilities have grown more advanced and created a privacy and regulatory headache for the company, according to The New York Times. Last year, the social media company settled a class action lawsuit filed in Illinois for $650 million after it was accused of improperly collecting the biometric data of users in the state with its “Tag Suggestions” feature, which used facial-recognition technology.

Kirstin Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame, told CNN that Facebook’s decision to end its use of facial-recognition technology represented “a good example of regulatory pressure,” as it has been criticized and targeted by regulators for years.

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“The volume of images Facebook had to maintain and secure was a constant vulnerability for Facebook — both in terms of cost but also in terms of trust,” she said.

On Tuesday, Pesenti said the social media company will be removing services that use facial recognition technology in the coming weeks. People who have opted out of the site’s Face Recognition setting will not be affected.