Facebook without the face? They might have changed their name to Book, rather than Meta.
Undoubtedly this sounds strange.
However, this is exactly what the company has posted days after rebranding itself to Meta. The post read that Facebook is closing shop on its face recognition system. Not only that, but the company announced that it will delete all of its face recognition records of some billion people, who have subscribed for this feature.
Facebook launched its face recognition service back in 2010. Users weren’t even asked to opt-in for it (this came as late as 2019) but were rather automatically included. This is basically how these billion face recognition users were subscribed. The face recognition service was used to identify people in pictures and tag them with their names.
Meta’s Artificial Intelligence VP Jerome Pesenti wrote in his blog said that this is undoubtedly the biggest policy shift in face recognition technology. Still, he considers that face recognition still has many potential uses, such as fraud prevention, security control, access, as well as support for the visually impaired. According to Pesenti, what is necessary is for legislation to come up to speed, and set the rules of the game, which are to be followed.
Pesenti’s frustration with laws on face recognition is not without reason. In February 2021 Facebook had to make a court settlement of USD 650 million. The lawsuit against FB was on the unauthorized facial tagging of photos and the use of face recognition technology on citizens of Illinois. Facebook is still pleading “Not Guilty”, refusing to accept that it has done anything wrong. The settlement was initiated by FB as means of evading heavier measures.
The move to wind down face recognition is also an effort from Meta to erode the recent negative wave, which was started by whistleblower France Haugen. The FB engineer disclosed that the company was aware of potential harm being caused to its users but always set its profit goals as more important than user safety. As FB cannot allow more negative head-wind it has made the decision to take down its face recognition.
However, this is by far not the complete end of facial recognition. The feature will not be deleted, rather it will no longer be able to tag faces on photos. Facebook will no longer be able to know who is in the pictures. However, Pesenti did suggest some of the future face recognition possible developments.
Further to fraud prevention and identity verification, face recognition technology is linked with the Automatic Alt Text feature of FB. This is important in order to aid visually impaired users, by reading to them the names of the participants in a picture. Pesenti also suggested that face recognition will remain a powerful identifier on personal devices. In this case, no information is shared outside of the personal device, hence no identity violation is possible.
Future regulators will need to determine the benign uses of facial recognition and set the standards for the use of the technology.