Facebook has announced that it will shut down its Facial Recognition System and delete the templates of over 1 billion people stored by this feature. This is a significant change, but contrary to popular perception, the social network won’t be forgoing the technology in its entirety because it regards facial recognition as a “powerful tool” for users needing to prevent impersonation and fraud, the company’s vice president of AI, Jérôme Pesenti, explained.
“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.”
A Costly Experiment
The facial recognition feature was introduced by Facebook in 2010 to make photo sharing user-friendly for people. It allowed Facebook users to tag their contacts in photos automatically.
However, the feature has been receiving criticism soon after its launching. Not only was it hammered by the privacy advocates, but it also received lawsuits and fines costing Facebook millions of dollars.
In 2015, Illinois state residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook/Meta to disable the Tag Suggestions feature as it violates the state’s law. Facebook settled the lawsuit this year for a whopping $650 million ($340 per user in the state).
Facebook didn’t sell this technology to any other company. Still, it was severely scrutinized, and the social network was forced to disable the feature in most European Union countries, including Germany.
Which Features will be Unavailable?
Apart from auto-tagging, facial recognition allowed users to receive notifications when someone uploaded a photo of them. Furthermore, it automatically added the user’s name to an image’s alt text to help visually impaired users understand the image’s content.
Facebook explained that these notifications and auto alt-text feature will become unavailable after shutting down the system.
“We’re shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook. People who’ve opted in will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos and we will delete more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”
“This change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people. After this change, AAT descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos but will function normally otherwise,” the Facebook official notification read.
This change represents the largest shift in the use of facial recognition in tech history.