Facebook to shut down facial recognition system and remove 1 billion “facial prints”

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Facebook will remove “facial prints” from more than a billion people after announcing the shutdown of its facial recognition system due to “many concerns” about the use of the technology.

The social media network has come under political, legal and regulatory pressure over its use of the software, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos if they have opted in for the feature. In a statement, Facebook’s parent company Meta said it will stop facial recognition on the platform in the coming weeks and remove 1 billion facial recognition models.

Meta vice president of artificial intelligence Jerome Pesenti said the technology has helped visually impaired and blind users identify their friends in images and may help prevent fraud and identity theft. But Pesenti said the benefits had to be weighed against “growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole”.

“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,” he said. “Amid this continuing uncertainty, we believe it is appropriate to limit the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases. “

If users have opted for the facial recognition setting, the facial imprint used to identify them will be deleted. If this facial recognition setting is disabled, Meta said there is no facial print to remove. Pesenti said Facebook will encourage users to tag posts manually.

In 2020, Facebook’s parent company paid $ 650 million (£ 477 million) to settle a US class action lawsuit brought by users who claimed the company created and stored scans of their faces without permission. Complaints were also filed with the US competition regulator and in 2012 a Facebook app to introduce facial recognition in the EU had to be withdrawn because no steps had been taken to obtain user consent. .

Pesenti added that the decision reflected a “company-wide” abandonment of facial recognition technology. Meta also owns the Instagram photo-sharing app and the WhatsApp messaging service, with 2.8 billion people using the company’s platforms, including 1.9 billion for Facebook. Last week, the parent company renamed itself Facebook in recognition of a new focus on the metaverse, a concept where the physical and digital worlds combine to allow people to virtually lead their professional and social lives, via digital representation. of themselves – or of avatars.

The rebranding and facial recognition moves come as Meta has been rocked by a string of disclosures from whistleblower Frances Haugen. The former employee released tens of thousands of internal documents and gave testimony to politicians in Westminster and Washington, which revealed Meta’s failure to keep some users safe and contain the spread of disinformation.

Following Haugen’s revelations, Meta turned back on a potential product launch by announcing that it had halted work on developing a version of Instagram for ages 10 to 12. He also stressed that he would develop his metaverse plans in close cooperation with regulators and legal experts. Pesenti said if the company intends to use facial recognition technology in the future, it will “continue to be public about the intended use” and “how people can control these systems and their personal data” .

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