On Tuesday, the social media platform Facebook announced to end using its facial recognition system, which automatically spots users in videos and especially photos. The company cited societal concerns about the technology in the announcement. In addition, there are raising concerns about the ethics of facial recognition technology, as questions are raised over racial bias, privacy, and accuracy.
The social media giant said that regulators still have not shared a clear set of rules over its use. It faced huge criticism over the impact of technology on Facebook users. So far, social media app users could choose to opt into the feature, which would scan their faces in pictures of other users who posted a picture of them.
We’re shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook. People who’ve opted in will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos and we will delete more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates: Meta pic.twitter.com/PspAM1mMOP
— ANI (@ANI) November 2, 2021
The vice president of artificial intelligence, Jerome Pesenti, said in a blog post that because of this current uncertainty, the company believes that limiting the use of facial recognition technology to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate. Previously, in 2019, a United States government suggested facial recognition algorithms were less precise at recognizing Asian and African-American faces compared to Caucasian faces.
2015 Case Against Facebook Face Recognition Technology
According to the study conducted by the National Institute of Standards & Technology, African-American women were even more chance to be misidentified. In 2020, the social media giant also settled a long-running legal clash about how it scans and tags images. The case against the firm has been ongoing since 2015. It agreed the company would pay $550 million to a group of Facebook users in Illinois who claimed the social media platform’s facial recognition tool violated the state’s privacy laws.
Other tech firms like Microsoft and Amazon also suspended their facial recognition product sales to police officials after the technology became more controversial. Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram and comes under mounting pressure from politicians and regulators for using this technology. It is also facing a higher investigation from regulators, including the United States Federal Trade Commission, which filed an antimonopoly suit claiming anti-competitive practices.
In October, a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, accused the firm of unethical behavior. She released a cache of internal Facebook documents, which according to her, revealed the company had priorities profit over people’s safety. Recently, the social media firm announced a new name, Meta, for its parent company, following several negative stories about Facebook.
The social media platform said over one-third of daily active users of Facebook opted into the face recognition setting on Facebook, and after the implementation of the change, it will delete the facial recognition templates of over one billion users. According to a Facebook spokesperson, the removal of the technology will roll out globally and expected to be complete by December.
Digital Rights Groups Welcomed the Facebook Move
Digital rights and privacy advocacy groups welcome the current move of the tech firm to shut down facial recognition technology. The executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Alan Butler, said that internet users suffered private data abuses at the whims of social media platforms such as Facebook. EPIC initially requested to end this program in 2011. At that time, he said that inclusive data protection regulations still required in the U.S.
Top Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Adam Schwartz, said that although the action of Facebook comes after initiatives from other tech firms, it could mark a prominent moment in the national turning-away from face recognition technology. Facebook further added that its automatic alt-text tool, which generates image descriptions for visually impaired users, will no longer include the names of users identified in photos after the removal of face recognition technology but will else function normally.
The social media platform didn’t dismiss facial identification technology in other products, saying it still sees it as an influential tool for the identity verification system. In addition, the facial recognition software of Facebook has long been a matter of scrutiny. The United States Federal Trade Commission included face recognition among the concerns when it charged Facebook $5 billion to settle secrecy complaints in 2019. Moreover, this year a judge authorized a $650 million settlement of Facebook of a class action in Illinois over claims it gathered and stored biometric statistics of users without proper consent.
Read Also: Facebook Reveals Latest Controls for Kids