Just five days after its rebranding and change of parent name from Facebook to Meta, Facebook has announced its plans to delete a trove of disturbing data that the world’s biggest social network had collected from a billion persons.
This announcement which was made via a blog post by Jerome Pesenti, VP of Artificial Intelligence on Tuesday, revealed that Facebook’s newly named parent company Meta explained why it would close shop on its facial recognition systems and delete a massive collection of more than a billion facial recognition templates used to pair faces with photos and videos.
Facebook will no longer do that pairing moving forward for users who previously opted in.
Facebook had earlier introduced the facial recognition feature in 2010 to automatically tag photos with names.
The feature was automatically enabled at launch, and Facebook only made the system explicitly opt-in in 2019, a choice that explains how it managed to compile more than a billion facial recognition profiles today.
“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,” , Facebook VP of artificial intelligence Jerome Pesenti wrote in a blog post.
“… 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.”
Pesenti noted the uncertain environment for facial recognition technology in the decision to limit Meta’s facial recognition work to a narrower set of applications.
Pesenti further revealed that this change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people. After this change, AAT descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos but will function normally otherwise.
Facebook’s face recognition system was poised more trouble than it was worth, as many proposals to regulate online privacy in the U.S. remain hypothetical, particularly at the federal level, but existing laws can complicate the use of facial recognition technology.
Among them is an Illinois privacy law known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which has ensnared some of tech’s biggest companies.
In March, 2021, Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million in a Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) settlement for using facial recognition to identify Illinois residents’ photos without their consent.
The controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI is also currently facing a BIPA lawsuit in the state. The FTC also cited Facebook’s use of facial recognition in its record-breaking but ultimately toothless $5 billion settlement with the company over deceptive privacy practices.
Per Tech Crunch, Facebook’s decision to turn away from facial recognition is a symbolic gesture on the heels of the company’s big rebrand around the metaverse.
Concerns about Facebook’s privacy and moderation failings have done little to dent its business, but public distrust and looming regulation will follow the company into its next chapter, rebrand or no.
As the company now known as Meta tries to reposition itself as a trustworthy steward for the next internet era, it has its work cut out for it. Attempting to cast off some baggage from previous privacy scandals is a shrewd move — and ultimately a win for users — even if nobody buys the sudden change of heart.