Why Facebook is shutting down its facial recognition system explained

On Tuesday, Jerome Pesenti, VP of artificial intelligence at Meta, Facebook’s parent organization, announced that the social media giant would shut down its decade-old facial recognition system and delete over one billion users’ face prints. Facebook previously used face prints to help users identify people on photos and suggest tags. This also helped Facebook delete fake profiles (pretending to be another user).

This decision came when concerns about Facebook’s policy on how it uses users’ data continue to grow. A month ago, Frances Haugen, a former employee, whistles blew, leaking official documents on how the company prioritizes business over users’ privacy. Speaking at a web summit tech conference in Lisbon on Monday, Haugen made comments on Facebook rebranding its name to Meta “Instead of investing in making sure their platforms are a minimum level of safety, they’re about to invest 10,000 engineers in video games.” She also called on its chairman and CEO, Mark Zukerberg, to step down.

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Although the company never gave access to facial recognition to any third party, previously, there were concerns regarding Facebook’s facial recognition system. Last year Facebook’s parent organization paid 650 million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by a user claiming the company had used facial recognition without permission. Also, in 2012 application to implement facial recognition in the EU had to be withdrawn because no provision was made to gain users’ consent.

Jerome Pesenti said facial recognition has helped visually impaired, and blind users identify their friends in images and can help prevent fraud and impersonation. But the advantages needed to be weighed against “growing concerns about using this technology as a whole”.

He said, “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,” “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

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Users had the option to choose whether or not to use facial recognition. People who opted into facial recognition, Will have their face prints deleted from Facebook. And users who didn’t opt into the setting have nothing to worry about, as Meta says Facebook didn’t store their face prints. From now on, Facebook won’t automatically tag anyone in photos. Instead, it will encourage users to tag people manually.

Meta also owns the Instagram app, with a user base of over 2.8 billion people. After harsh criticism over users’ privacy, it has been trying desperately to regain a good image. After the recent whistleblowing incident, it even paused to develop an Instagram for kids aged 10-12.

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Bony Adnan is a young high schooler very passionate about journalism. Bony loves to learn new things and share his ideas with the world. He was the editor of his school's newspaper for two years. Currently, he is an intern at PanAsiaBiz. You can read some of Bony's thoughts and ideas at https://bonyadnan.weebly.com/. He is reachable at bony@panasiabiz.com.