Facebook Plans on Shutting Down Facial Recognition Effort, Deleting 1 Billion Profiles

Facebook is now shutting down it’s facial recognition program. In the process, it says 1 billion people will be deleted.

Facebook says it will be winding down and shutting down its facial recognition program. In the process, it says it will be deleting 1 billion facial recognition templates it had built up in the process. CNBC posted a report on the development:

Facebook on Tuesday announced it will be putting an end to its facial recognition system amid growing concern from users and regulators.

The social network, whose parent company is now named Meta, said it will delete more than 1 billion people’s individual facial recognition templates as a result of this change. The company said in a blog post that more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users, or over 600 million accounts, had opted into the use of the face recognition technology.

Facebook will no longer automatically recognize people’s faces in photos or videos, the post said. The change, however, will also impact the automatic alt text technology that the company uses to describe images for people who are blind or visually impaired. Facebook services that rely on the face recognition systems will be removed over the coming weeks.

“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,” the company said. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

Apparently, the idea was that the company was scanning pictures on its platform and using facial recognition technology to identify people’s faces in them. As a journalist, it is always unnerving to feel out of the loop of something that seems so big, yet here we are seeing a program this big impacting privacy so profoundly… and we’re just learning about it today. It’s a bit admission, but yes, we had no idea this was even happening in the first place. To be fair, we’ve been limiting our use of Facebook to merely what seems essential. To be honest, next to no traffic comes here from Facebook to begin with, so the benefits of having a presence on Facebook has always been questionable for us.

The use of facial recognition software has always been highly controversial. In fact, it’s legality has also been questionable as well. Clearview AI has been at the forefront for quite some time for what is so badly wrong with such technology. A big sticking point is the fact that such technology has been known to scoop up photo’s of people without their permission. Then, it basically turns it into a form of surveillance. If you happen to be in the shot in the background, it’s entirely possible that the technology will figure out where and when you have been at a location.

While it is possible to obtain permission from a couple of individuals to have their face used in the software, the chances of obtaining permission from everyone ever pictured and scooped up by the technology (which often ranges in the millions of photos) are pretty much non-existent. While police forces in different jurisdictions initially defended the technology for being used in fighting crime, the use extended far beyond crime fighting. What’s more is that companies behind the technology have been hacked in the past on top of it all.

So, for reasons that should be obvious, the reception to such technology is quite cold at best. Even police forces, often a source of those who defend the use of the technology, have either stopped using the technology or won’t even touch such technology with a ten foot barge pole thanks to its toxic nature.

Of course, the latest shut down does raise a number of privacy concerns. For instance, did the Canadian Privacy Commissioner know about the use of this technology? If the use of Clearview AI violated privacy laws, did Facebook also violate privacy laws with this program in the first place?

Even then, the worst case scenario for Facebook is, as is the long running joke goes, a strongly worded letter. This is because Canadian privacy laws remain woefully unreformed. There are no financial penalties for breaching people’s privacy. At most, if someone can prove that their personal privacy was violated, then they can litigate. A tall order at the best of times.

The only good news in all of this is that, officially, the program is ending and the profiles Facebook built over the years will be, according to Facebook, deleted. While some might consider this a typical Facebook problem, the reality that this is more of a privacy law problem. Some regions like Europe seem to be at least attempting to solve the problem while regions like Canada can’t even be bothered to get started on finding a solution. Too busy declaring war on the open Internet for that it seems.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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