In the coming weeks, Facebook’s newly rebranded parent company Meta will officially shut down its Face Recognition system on Facebook, which means users who have to use the Facebook face recognition system on their devices will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos, and Facebook will also delete more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates, which are used to identify people.
See also: Facebook is rebranding as Meta
This will also have an impact on Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which generates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired persons. AAT descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos, but will otherwise work correctly, according to the company.
“For many years, Facebook has also given people the option to be automatically notified when they appear in photos or videos posted by others and provided recommendations for who to tag in photos. These features are also powered by the Face Recognition system which we are shutting down,” the company said.
Facebook’s decision to end the program follows persistent privacy and ethical concerns raised by the use of facial recognition that it could be abused to target marginalized communities, exacerbate racial bias, and normalize intrusive surveillance, leading to government bans in cities across the United States including Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Minneapolis, among others. Amazon said in May 2021 that it will extend a restriction on law enforcement’s use of its face recognition algorithms indefinitely.
The company stated that the adjustment is being made due to the need to “weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.” Nonetheless, Facebook stated that it will continue to employ facial recognition in “services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products, or unlock a personal device.”
In 2010, Facebook introduced facial recognition as a way to automatically tag photos and videos with names based on a “face recognition template” generated from users’ profile pictures as well as photos and videos that they have already been tagged in, as well as notifying users when they appear in multimedia content posted by other users and providing recommendations for whom to tag in the photos.
Despite being enabled by default at launch, the function was toned back and made an explicit opt-in in September 2019, after which more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users — over 640 million individuals — are believed to have chosen to enable the setting.
The news comes as Facebook strives to rebrand and remove itself from a slew of problems that have dogged its products in recent years, with the firm now under fire for purportedly prioritizing engagement and profitability over user safety and real-world ills caused by its platforms.