Facebook announced that it would delete the most disturbing data the social network had collected about more than a million people just days after its rebranding.
Meta, Facebook's new parent company, announced Tuesday that it will close down its facial recognition systems as well as delete an enormous collection of facial recognition templates that were used to match faces with photos and videos. For users who have opted in, Facebook will stop doing this pairing.
Facebook introduced facial recognition to automatically tag photos with names in 2010. Facebook enabled facial recognition automatically at launch. However, the feature was only explicitly activated in 2019. This explains why it has compiled more than one billion facial recognition profiles.
We still consider facial recognition technology a powerful tool. For example, it can be used to verify identity or prevent fraud and impersonation. This was the opinion of Jerome Pesenti, Facebook's vice president for artificial intelligence. However, there are many instances where facial recognition is useful. This must be balanced against growing concerns about the technology's overall use.
Pesenti pointed out the insecure environment for facial recognition technology when he decided to limit Metas facial recognition work down to a smaller number of applications.
Facebook's face recognition system was at this point probably more trouble than it was worthwhile. Although there are many proposals to regulate online privacy in America, especially at the federal level of government, existing laws can make facial recognition technology more difficult. One of them is the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) in Illinois, which has attracted some of the most prominent tech companies.
In a BIPA settlement, Facebook was ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court to pay $650m for using facial recognition without Illinois residents' consent. Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company, is currently being sued in a BIPA case. In its record-breaking, but ultimately toothless $5B settlement with Facebook over deceptive privacy practices, the FTC also mentioned Facebook's facial recognition.
The company's major rebranding around the metaverse is the reason Facebook decided to stop facial recognition. Facebook's privacy and moderation failures have not affected its business. However, public distrust and looming regulation are likely to follow the company into its next chapter.
Meta, the company now known, is trying to position itself as a trusted steward for the next Internet era. It is smart to try to get rid of some baggage from past privacy scandals. This is ultimately a win-win situation for users, even though nobody will buy the sudden change of heart.