In a move that will impact over a billion people, Facebook announced that it would be shutting down its facial recognition system, citing “societal concerns” made worse by the fact that “regulators have yet to provide clear rules.”
“We’re shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook,” the company announced in a blog post. “People who’ve opted in will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos and we will delete more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”
“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 recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates,” Facebook announced.
While acknowledging that facial recognition technology can be a “powerful tool,” Facebook stated that “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. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate,” the blog post read. “This includes services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device. These are places where facial recognition is both broadly valuable to people and socially acceptable, when deployed with care. While we will continue working on use cases like these, we will ensure people have transparency and control over whether they are automatically recognized.”
“Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance,” Facebook concluded in the announcement. “In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it. We will continue engaging in that conversation and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion.”
Facebook also noted that this change would “also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people,” adding that “AAT descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos but will function normally otherwise.”
Facial recognition technology is comparatively under-regulated, with cities and states often moving to ban the use of such systems by government entities or police departments. For example, San Francisco became the first city to ban government use of facial recognition technology in 2019.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applauded the move as “a good start toward ending dangerous uses of facial recognition technology.”
“Now it’s time for enforceable rules that prohibit companies from scanning our faces without our consent. Looking at you, Congress,” ACLU tweeted.
This is a good start toward ending dangerous uses of facial recognition technology.
Now it’s time for enforceable rules that prohibit companies from scanning our faces without our consent.
Looking at you, Congress. https://t.co/SnSu8wUW7V
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 2, 2021