Amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse by governments, police and others, and on the heels of the leak of the ‘Facebook Papers’, the social media giant has announced that it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete the faceprints of more than 1 billion people.
“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta, wrote in a blog post.
“Its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”
He said the company was trying to weigh the positive use cases for the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.”
This of course comes as the company is facing perhaps its biggest public relations crisis to date after leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that it has known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them. As well as on the heels of the company’s rebrand – something that has had mixed reviews amongst the public.
Last month, US President Joe Biden’s science and technology office launched a fact-finding mission to look at facial recognition and other biometric tools used to identify people or assess their emotional or mental states and character. He also nominated a fierce critic of facial recognition practices, law professor Alvaro Bedoya, to be an FTC commissioner.
While the Biden administration has not issued any policy statements on facial recognition, the Bedoya nomination suggests concern. Bedoya was staff counsel to former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who in 2012 convened the first Senate hearing on the risks of Facebook’s use of facial recognition.
Facebook’s face-scanning practices contributed to the US$5 billion fine and privacy restrictions the Federal Trade Commission imposed on the company in 2019.