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Facebook will shut down facial recognition software

Facebook says it will limit the facial recognition to a ‘narrow set of use cases’. Photo: Getty
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Facebook says it is shutting down facial recognition software which automatically recognises, and suggests tags, for more than one billion people.

In a massive shift for the technology industry, the social media giant said on Wednesday morning it would be making changes amid growing community concern over security.

But Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, said the company still believes facial recognition is a “powerful tool” and that it will keep working on the technology.

“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” Mr Pesenti wrote in a blog post.

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

He added: “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 the Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognised, Mr Pesenti said.

The removal of face recognition by the world’s largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning over the past few years over the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say facial recognition technology – which is popular among retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes – could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance.

“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 said.

“We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts.

“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.”

For users, the changes mean:

  • People will no longer be automatically recognised in Memories, photos or videos;
  • People will no longer be able to turn on face recognition for suggested tagging or see a suggested tag with their name in photos and videos they may appear in;
  • Automatic Alt Text (AAT), a technology used to create image descriptions for people who are blind or visually impaired, will be impacted. AAT will still be able to recognise how many people are in a photo, but will no longer attempt to identify who each person is using facial recognition;
  • The template used to identify users will be deleted.

The news also comes as Facebook has been under intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.

The company, which last week renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc, said more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site and the change will now delete the “facial recognition templates” of more than one billion people.

The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook added that its automatic alt text tool, which creates image descriptions for visually impaired people, will no longer include the names of people recognised in photos after the removal of face recognition but will otherwise function normally.

The technology will now be limited to certain services such as helping people gain access to their locked accounts or unlock a personal device, Facebook said in the blog post.

-with AAP