Facebook Inc announced Tuesday that it will shut down its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing social concerns about the use of such technology.
“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing their use,” wrote Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, in a blog post. “Amid this constant uncertainty, we believe it is appropriate to limit the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases.”
The removal of facial recognition by the world’s largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning in recent years over the ethics of using technology.
Critics say facial recognition technology, which is popular with retailers, hospitals and other companies for security reasons, could compromise privacy, target marginalized groups and normalize intrusive surveillance.
IBM has permanently halted sales of facial recognition products, and Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc have suspended sales to the police indefinitely.
The news also comes as Facebook has come under intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.
The company, which rebranded itself Meta Platforms Inc last week, said more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted for facial recognition settings on the social media site, and the change will now remove the “face recognition templates” of more than one billion people.
The removal will be implemented globally and is expected to be complete in December, a Facebook spokesperson said.
Privacy and digital rights advocacy groups welcomed the move.
Alan Butler, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: “For too long, Internet users have suffered personal data abuse on the whims of Facebook and other platforms.
EPIC first called for an end to this program in 2011, “although it said comprehensive data protection regulations were still needed in the United States.
Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that while Facebook’s move comes after moves by other tech companies, it could mark a “remarkable moment in the national move away from facial recognition.”
Facebook added that its automatic alt-text tool, which creates image descriptions for the visually impaired, will no longer include the names of recognized people in photos after the removal of facial recognition, but it will work normally.
Facebook did not rule out the use of facial recognition technology in other products, saying it still sees it as a “powerful tool” for identity verification, for example.
The company’s facial recognition software has long come under scrutiny. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission included it among concerns when it fined Facebook $ 5 billion to resolve privacy complaints in 2019.
This year, a judge approved Facebook’s $ 650 million settlement from an Illinois class action lawsuit over allegations that it collected and stored biometric data from users without proper consent.