As a response to all privacy concerns surrounding the social media giant, Facebook – now rebranded as Meta – has decided to shut down its opt-in facial recognition system. The feature originally recognized the faces of Facebook users in photos and videos. Now, users are supposed to manually “tag” the people in their posts instead.
Facebook first enabled the feature in 2010, amassing the visual details of more than 500 million people at the time. In 2019, facial recognition was made opt-in but the company still managed to collect more than a billion profiles. More than a third of Facebook’s daily users – about 640 million people – have opted in to have their faces recognized by the social network’s system.
Earlier this year, Facebook was sued for $650 million for using facial recognition to identify some Illinois residents’ photos without their consent. This violated an Illinois privacy law known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The FTC also mentioned Facebook’s use of facial recognition in its $5 billion settlement with the company over privacy issues.
In a blog post from Jerome Pesenti, Vice President of A.I. for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta, he wrote, “This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history. 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”.
The feature is unlikely to be entirely eradicated from the platform. Facebook may still use facial recognition as an optional verification method for unlocking accounts and identification for financial transactions. However, the changeover will cause some minor inconvenience to users with disabilities. One of Facebook’s accessibility features was the Automatic Alt Text (AAT) – a feature that creates image descriptions for visually impaired people. After this, AAT descriptions will no longer include the automatically recognised names of people but will function normally otherwise.
Fearing the lack of responsibility while handling sensitive user information, governments everywhere are imposing a crackdown on explicit data harvesting by social media corporations. American Tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM also paused their sales of facial recognition software to the police over concerns about false identifications and racial injustice. European regulators and lawmakers have also taken measures to stop law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces to regulate the riskiest applications of artificial intelligence.