The parent company, Meta, have confirmed they will delete the faceprints of over a billion people
Facebook has said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete the faceprints of more than one billion people.
Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company Meta, said in a blog post: “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 in to our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognised, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”
He said the company was trying to weigh the positive use cases for the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules”.
Facebook’s announcement follows a busy few weeks for the company. On Thursday it announced a new name — Meta — for the company, but not the social network. The new name, it said, would help it focus on building technology for what it envisions as the next iteration of the internet – the “metaverse”.
The company is also facing perhaps its biggest public relations crisis to date after leaked documents from whistle-blower Frances Haugen showed that it had known about the harms its products caused and often done little or nothing to mitigate them.
More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to have their faces recognised by the social network’s system. That is about 640 million people.
But Facebook had already been scaling back its use of facial recognition after introducing it more than a decade ago.
In 2019, the company ended its practice of using face recognition software to identify users’ friends in uploaded photos and automatically suggesting they “tag” them.
Facebook was sued in Illinois in the US over the tag suggestion feature.
Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame in the US, said the decision “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the company”.
She added that the move also demonstrated the power of regulatory pressure, as the face recognition system had been the subject of harsh criticism for more than a decade.
Researchers and privacy activists have spent years raising questions about the technology, citing studies that found it worked unevenly across boundaries of race, gender or age.
Concerns had also grown because of increasing awareness of the Chinese government’s extensive video surveillance system, especially as it had been employed in a region home to one of China’s largely Muslim ethnic minority populations.
Some US cities have moved to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other municipal departments.
In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to outlaw the technology, which has long alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.
Meta’s newly wary approach to facial recognition follows decisions by other US tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM last year to end or pause their sales of facial recognition software to police, citing concerns about false identifications and amid a broader US reckoning over policing and racial injustice.
US president Joe Biden’s science and technology office in October launched a fact-finding mission to look at facial recognition and other biometric tools used to identify people or assess their emotional or mental states and character.
European regulators and politicians have also taken steps towards blocking law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces, as part of broader efforts to regulate the riskiest applications of artificial intelligence.
Facebook’s face-scanning practices also contributed to the five billion US dollars (£3.7 billion) fine and privacy restrictions imposed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019.
Facebook’s settlement with the FTC after the agency’s year-long investigation included a promise to require “clear and conspicuous” notice before people’s photos and videos were subjected to facial recognition technology.