Facebook shuts down facial recognition system; What is it and why it has been shut down?

Facebook shuts down Facial Recognition System. The system has led to growing societal concerns about the use of such technology. Check details. 

Created On: Nov 3, 2021 10:56 IST
Facebook shuts down facial recognition system
Facebook shuts down facial recognition system

Facebook Inc. announced on November 2, 2021, that will be shutting down its Facial Recognition System which automatically identifies the users in the videos and the photos. The system has led to growing societal concerns about the use of such technology.

The Vice President of Artificial Intelligence at Facebook, Jerome Pesenti, wrote in a blog post, “Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use.” It further added that amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.

The social media platform, which last week renamed itself ‘Meta’ Platforms Inc., has been facing a reckoning over the past few years over the ethics of using facial recognition technology.

What is Facial Recognition System?

It is a technology that is capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces. The facial recognition system is typically employed to authenticate users through ID Verification Services and its works by pinpointing and measuring the facial features from a given image. 

Facebook’s Facial Recognition System: What is the problem with it?

As per the critics, the facial recognition technology of Facebook, which is popular among hospitals, retailers, and other businesses for security purposes- can compromise privacy, target marginalized groups and normalize intrusive surveillance.

IBM has permanently ended the facial recognition product sales, and Amazon and Microsoft have suspended the sales to police indefinitely.

The news of shutting down the Facial Recognition System has come at a time when Facebook has been under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators over user safety and a wide range of abuses on the platform.

Who will be impacted?

Facebook has said that with the shutting down of its Facial Recognition System, more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users who have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site, the change will now delete the ‘face recognition templates’ of more than 1 billion people.

The removal of the face recognition system will roll out globally and is expected to be completed by December 2021.

Impact on visually impaired people

Facebook informed that its automatic text tool, which creates the image descriptions for the visually impaired people, will no longer include the names of the people recognized in the photos after the face recognition technology is removed, however, it will otherwise function normally.

Digital rights activists welcome shutting down of facial recognition system

The privacy advocacy and digital rights groups have welcomed the move of Facebook. The Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Alan Butler said that for far too long, internet users have suffered personal data abuses at the whims of abuses of Facebook and other platforms. EPIC had first called for an end to this program in 2011.

The Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that even though Facebook’s action comes after moves from other tech companies, it can still mark a notable moment in the national turning away from face recognition.

Not the complete removal of facial recognition system

Facebook has not ruled out the use of facial recognition systems in other products. As per the company, it sees the technology as a powerful tool for identity verification for example.

Facebook fined for privacy complaints

The facial recognition software of Facebook has long been the subject of scrutiny. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission had included it among the concerns and had fined Facebook $5 billion to settle the privacy complaints in 2019.

A judge, in 2021, had also approved Facebook’s $650 million settlement of a class action in Illinois over the allegations that it collected and stored the biometric data of the users without proper consent.

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