Amongst the many changes that Facebook has announced lately comes yet another surprise: Facebook stated this week that it will shut down its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos. This will effectively delete the face prints of more than 1 billion people amid growing societal concerns about the misuse of the technology.
Facebook's face-recognition system was introduced over a decade ago, and since then more than a third of the social network's daily active users have opted to have their faces recognised by the software. This removal of facial recognition falls in line with the scrutiny the tech industry has faced over the past several years in regards to the ethics of this technology.
Critics say the facial recognition technology, which is popular among retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes, could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance.
Facebook's Privacy issues
In 2019, the US Federal Trade Commission included it among its concerns when it fined Facebook $5 billion (AU$6.75 billion) to settle privacy complaints.
A US judge this year approved Facebook's $650 million (AU$875 million) settlement of a class action in Illinois over allegations it collected and stored biometric data of users without proper consent.
The news also comes as Facebook has been under intense legislative scrutiny over user safety and abuses on its platforms, facing a public relations crisis over leaked documents dubbed 'The Facebook Papers'. The documents support claims that the social network has prioritised financial success over user safety.
When the Facial Recognition removal is happening
The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesperson said.
Facebook added that its automatic alt text tool, which creates image descriptions for visually impaired people, will no longer include the names of people recognised in photos after the removal of face recognition, but will otherwise function normally.
Facebook did not rule out using facial recognition technology in other products, however, saying it still sees this as a "powerful tool" for identity verification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.