Facebook is shutting down its facial recognition system

The social media giant is also deleting individual facial recognition templates for more than a billion people.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Facebook on Tuesday announced it's shutting down its facial recognition system and deleting individual facial recognition templates for more than a billion people. 

"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," Facebook's VP, AI Jerome Pesenti, wrote in a blog post. "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."

After the company -- which recently changed its name to Meta -- shuts down the system in the coming weeks, Facebook users who've opted into the system will no longer be automatically recognized in 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. 

Pesenti said that more than a third of Facebook's daily active users have opted into the Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized. 

"This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology's history," he wrote. 

The change will also impact Facebook's Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people. Currently, AAT identifies people in about 4% of photos. 

Facebook started using facial recognition on its platform about a decade ago, but attitudes towards the technology have evolved since then. About six years ago, Facebook users from Illinois filed a class-action lawsuit alleging its facial recognition system violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The law prevents companies from gathering or using biometric information from users without consent. The case was settled for $650 million earlier this year. 

Meanwhile, in the absence of federal rules governing the technology, a growing number of local governments across the US are enacting bans or limitations on the use of facial recognition. 

Pesenti said Facebook is not giving up on the idea of using facial recognition and "will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts." But amid the legal uncertainty surrounding the technology, "we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate."

He said that includes services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device.

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