Facebook has said it plans to stop using facial-recognition software that could automatically recognise people in photos and videos posted on the social network, marking a massive shift both for the tech industry and for a company known for collecting vast amounts of data about its billions of users.
Facebook, which changed its company name to Meta last week, also said today (AEDT) it plans to delete the data it had gathered through its use of this software, which is associated with more than a billion people’s faces.
The move, announced in a blog post authored by artificial intelligence vice president Jerome Pesenti, comes as the company is widely scrutinised for the potential real-world harms of its social platforms in the wake of a whistleblower’s leak of hundreds of internal documents.
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Mr Pesenti wrote that the world’s largest social network will close its facial-recognition system in the coming weeks “as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products”.
“Facebook will still be working on facial recognition technology, however, and may use it in its products — range from social networks to a futuristic pair of picture-taking glasses — in the future.
“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,” Mr Pesenti wrote.
In his post, Mr Pesenti pointed to concerns about the appropriateness of the technology, which has come under scrutiny as it’s increasingly used but, in the US, at least, barely regulated.
“We need to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules,” Mr Pesenti wrote.
The move to both stop using the software and to wipe the data that is related to existing users of the feature marks an about-face for Facebook, which has been a major user and proponent of the technology.
For years, the social network has allowed people to opt in to a facial-recognition setting that would automatically tag them in pictures and videos.
Mr Pesenti wrote that more than a third of the company’s daily active users had opted in to the setting — or more than 643 million people, as Facebook had 1.93 billion daily active users in the third quarter of 2021.