SCANDAL-HIT FACEBOOK said it is shutting down a long-criticized facial recognition system and deleting survey data on 1 billion people, in a shocking response to privacy concerns.
The announcement came as the tech giant grapples with one of its worst crises ever, with leaked packets of internal documents to US journalists, lawmakers and regulators leading to new calls for government regulation.
This policy change turns off a feature that automatically identifies who has appeared in Facebook users’ digital photos, and has been a key to the company building a global library of faces that have become a magnet for controversy.
« This change will represent one of the largest shifts in the use of facial recognition in the history of technology, » wrote Jerome Bisenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook’s parent company Meta.
« There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of introducing a clear set of rules governing its use, » he added.
Pesenti did not directly explain why the change was announced at a time when the company was inundated with reports based on leaked documents that argued that executives knew the platform could cause harm.
Ending the system, he wrote, « will result in more than a billion people being removed from individual facial recognition templates, » adding that it will take place over the coming weeks.
Privacy advocates welcomed the news, but some worried it was an attempt to score points amid recent PR disasters.
“My feed is evenly split between people who think Facebook’s decision to stop using facial recognition and fingerprinting is a huge problem and people who think it’s a desperate grab for positive news headlines that change nothing of the essence,” tweeted Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at Facebook. International Electronic Frontiers.
Facial recognition, which was launched in 2010, has undergone changes to tighten privacy, but it remains central to a lawsuit and important regulatory scrutiny.
The social network agreed in 2020 to pay $650 million (about 561 million euros) in damages after failing to win the dismissal of a case alleging it illegally collected biometric information for « face tagging » in violation of the 2008 Illinois Privacy Act. .
The deal was one of the biggest settlements in the US privacy issue, and was topped only by Facebook’s $5 billion (€4.3 billion) deal with the Federal Trade Commission over its data practices.
Several US cities, including San Francisco, have passed bans on the use of facial recognition technology. There are concerns about creating large databases with errors in identifying some individuals.
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In the US, facing pressure from watchdogs, tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google have, at least temporarily, halted the sale of facial recognition software to police forces.
“Face recognition is one of the most dangerous and politically toxic technologies of all time. Even Facebook knows it,” said Caitlin Seely George, campaign director at digital advocacy group Fight for the Future.
As the company battles whistleblower discoveries, it has changed its parent company’s name to Meta in an effort to move beyond being a scandal-ridden social network to its virtual reality vision of the future.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – used by billions around the world – will keep their names under rebranding that critics have described as an attempt to distract attention from the platform’s flaws.
« Spécialiste de la télévision sans vergogne. Pionnier des zombies inconditionnels. Résolveur de problèmes d’une humilité exaspérante. »