Meta to delete Facebook facial recognition dataset, turn off features
Facebook’s facial recognition tools are being shut down and a database of a billion face biometric templates deleted, Meta VP of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti declared in a blog post.
The Face Recognition system had allowed users in some jurisdictions to opt-in to automatic tagging in photos based on biometric matches, along with several other features.
Pesenti writes that Facebook still sees facial recognition as a powerful tool capable of delivering a range of benefits, specifically calling out identity verification and fraud prevention applications.
“But the many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole,” he writes. “There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”
Pesenti suggests that on-device facial authentication “can be particularly valuable.”
One apparently beneficial use case that will be turned off is Facebook’s Automatic Alt Text feature, which creates descriptions of images for people who are blind or have visual impairments.
Facebook’s biometric photo-tagging feature was introduced in 2010, and the New York Times reports that it was used by roughly a third of the social media network’s users. The company also used facial recognition to identify site users impersonating others.
The social media giant settled a biometric data privacy class action last year for $650 million, and facial recognition was among the concerns listed by the FTC when it levied a $5 billion fine against Facebook for privacy violations in 2019.
The latter ruling motivated the removal of a tag-suggestion feature based on facial recognition, and changes to the photo-tagging system.
Facial authentication used for onboarding by Facebook’s Novi digital wallet will be unaffected by the social media policy change. The company also does not make any commitments in the post to other products, such as its Ego4D smart glasses.
The Times writes that the Metaverse-focused side of new Facebook parent Meta has also considered integrating facial recognition with one or more products.