Earlier this week, Meta took the name change seriously and announced that Facebook would be shutting down its facial recognition system in the coming weeks. Asides from Facebook’s deteriorating security reputation and privacy concerns, the service was mostly a welcome feature. It lets you know if someone posts a picture or video of you somewhere on the internet and helps suggest tagging options based on facial recognition. However, amid mounting pressure, the company has announced that it will be discontinuing Facebook’s Facial Recognition System, deleting 1 billion facial recognition templates along with it.
Although many are just excited that Facebook no longer has their face data (phew!), the feature was super helpful, sometimes downright essential, for many users. For instance, Meta’s vice-president of artificial intelligence, Jerome Pesenti, said the technology had helped visually impaired, and blind users identify friends in images. The technology probably helped prevent fraud and impersonation. Unfortunately, Pesenti said the advantages were not enough to cancel out the “growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole.”
Why Did Meta Shut Down the Facial Recognition System?
Well, in the words of Pesenti:
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. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”
Also basically, facial recognition or on-device authentication is safer when it doesn’t need to communicate with an external server. So, unlocking your iPhone with FaceID may be safe, but using Facebook’s tagging system is not the same thing, as your facial data is not used locally in that instance.
Facebook has suffered from heavy lawsuits due to its Facial Recognition Software and privacy concerns. For instance, in 2020, it was reported that Facebook (the parent company now called Meta) paid $650m (£477m) to settle a US class-action lawsuit. Some users had claimed Facebook had used its Facial Recognition System to create and store scans of their faces without permission. Sure, Facebook is extremely wealthy despite all this, but they won’t want to be shelling out cash like this!
The Implication of the Shutdown
According to Facebook, all your past tags won’t just automatically vanish. You get to keep those. The problem is, you can’t get the autosuggest tagging feature anymore, which means you now have to tag your photos manually. Facebook also says that if you never activated this feature, you don’t have to bother about your faceprint information getting stored somewhere because Facebook never took it in the first place. However, if you are one of the 1 billion users who used the tagging system, Facebook will be deleting your faceprint information.
As for whether this is bye-bye to facial recognition forever, well, not quite. Facebook says, “For each potential future application, we’ll continue to be public about its intended use, how people can have control over these systems and their personal data, and how we’re ensuring the technology lives up to our responsible innovation framework”. That doesn’t sound like goodbye, does it?