Facebook to delete face scan data of over one billion users

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Uba Group

Uba Group

FACEBOOK plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system this month, deleting the face scan data of more than one billion users and effectively eliminating a feature that has fueled privacy concerns, government investigations, a class-action lawsuit and regulatory woes.

Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Meta, Facebook’s newly named parent company, said in a blog post on Tuesday that the social network was making the change because of “many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society.” He added that the company still saw the software as a powerful tool, but “every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance.”

The decision shutters a feature that was introduced in December 2010 so that Facebook users could save time. The facial-recognition software automatically identified people who appeared in users’ digital photo albums and suggested users “tag” them all with a click, linking their accounts to the images. Facebook now has built one of the largest repositories of digital photos in the world, partly thanks to this software.

Facial-recognition technology, which has advanced in accuracy and power in recent years, has increasingly been the focus of debate because of how it can be misused by governments, law enforcement and companies. In China, authorities use the capabilities to track and control the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. In the United States, law enforcement has turned to the software to aid policing, leading to fears of overreach and mistaken arrests. Some cities and states have banned or limited the technology to prevent potential abuse.

Facebook only used its facial-recognition capabilities on its own site and did not sell its software to third parties. Even so, the feature became a privacy and regulatory headache for the company. Privacy advocates repeatedly raised questions about how much facial data Facebook had amassed and what the company could do with such information. Images of faces that are found on social networks can be used by start-ups and other entities to train facial-recognition software.

When the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook a record $5 billion to settle privacy complaints in 2019, the facial recognition software was among the concerns. Last year, the company also agreed to pay $650 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in Illinois that accused Facebook of violating a state law that requires residents’ consent to use their biometric information, including their “face geometry.”

The social network made its facial recognition technology announcement as it also grapples with intense public scrutiny. Lawmakers and regulators have been up in arms over the company in recent months after a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, leaked thousands of internal documents that showed the firm was aware of how it enabled the spread of misinformation, hate speech and violence-inciting content.

The revelations have led to congressional hearings and regulatory inquiries. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, renamed Facebook’s parent company as Meta and said he would shift resources toward building products for the next online frontier, a digital world known as the metaverse.

The change affects more than a third of Facebook’s daily users who had facial recognition turned on for their accounts, according to the company. That meant they received alerts when new photos or videos of them were uploaded to the social network. The feature had also been used to flag accounts that might be impersonating someone else and was incorporated into software that described photos to blind users.

“Making this change required us to weigh the instances where facial recognition can be helpful against the growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole,” said Jason Grosse, a Meta spokesman.

– New York Times