de techgigant Facebook announced, on Tuesday, that it is turning off its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos. The social media giant is doing this in response to “increasing public concern about the use of such technology”.
When you post a photo or video to Facebook, the platform can use the facial recognition system to see who is in the shared post. But the company now wants to discontinue this system. “The removal will be rolled out globally and is expected to be completed by December,” a spokesperson told the news agency. Reuters.
“Regulators are still in the process of issuing clear rules for the use of facial recognition,” Jerome Bisenti, Facebook’s vice president of artificial intelligence, wrote in a blog post. “Amid the ongoing uncertainty, we believe that restricting their use is appropriate.”
Facebook added that its automatic alt text tool, which creates image descriptions for people with visual impairments, will no longer contain the names of people recognized in photos after removing facial recognition, but otherwise, the tool will work normally.
Facebook’s decision was not a complete surprise. Governments around the world are putting increasing pressure on tech giants to use their technology in an ethical manner. For a while, it has become clear how big an impact Instagram has on the mental health of young people. The company was also hit hard recently after whistleblower Frances Hogan said Facebook intentionally tweaked its algorithms to increase profits.
Critics say facial recognition technology can threaten privacy, affect marginalized groups, and normalize intrusive surveillance. Facebook isn’t the first company to fall behind in this area, by the way. IBM has permanently halted sales of facial recognition products, and Microsoft and Amazon.com have indefinitely suspended sales of this technology to law enforcement.
The program has been under fire for a while
The company’s facial recognition software has been on fire for some time in the United States (US). The US Federal Trade Commission listed it as a concern when it fined Facebook $5 billion in 2019 over privacy complaints. This year, a judge approved a $650 million settlement of Facebook in a class action lawsuit in Illinois over allegations that it collected and stored users’ biometric data without the required consent.
The privacy and digital rights groups welcome Facebook’s decision. “For far too long, Internet users have been victims of the misuse of personal information by Facebook and other companies,” Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said in a statement. Reuters.
However, Facebook does not rule out the use of facial recognition technology in other products. “It remains a powerful identity verification tool, for example,” the company said.
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