Shattered Lock

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On November 2, 2021, Meta – the parent organization of Facebook – announced plans to shut down its Face Recognition system “as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products,” Meta Vice President of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti wrote in “An Update On Our Use of Face Recognition.”

“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,” wrote Pesenti, adding the change was one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage.

“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 wrote in the update.

Face Recognition is used to analyze photos and videos containing Facebook users to create a unique template. Ending the Face Recognition system means the services it enables will be removed in the coming weeks, along with the setting allowing people to opt into the system. Pesenti said this would lead to a number of changes:

  • Our technology will no longer automatically recognize if people’s faces appear in Memories, photos, or videos.
  • People will no longer be able to turn on face recognition for suggested tagging or see a suggested tag with their name in photos and videos they may appear in. We’ll still encourage people to tag posts manually, to help you and your friends know who is in a photo or video.
  • This change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), a technology used to create image descriptions for people who are blind or visually impaired. AAT currently identifies people in about 4% of photos.
  • If you have opted into our Face Recognition setting, we will delete the template used to identify you. If you have the face recognition setting turned off, there is no template to delete and there will be no change.

“Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity or to prevent fraud and impersonation. We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency, and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used,” Pesenti wrote.

“Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance. In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it. We will continue engaging in that conversation,” Pesenti concluded.

In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on “Facial Recognition Technology: Privacy and Accuracy Issues Related to Commercial Uses” that found businesses can use facial recognition technology (FRT) to verify or identify people and provide them with access to buildings or online accounts.

However, the GAO report also revealed that advocacy groups have raised privacy and accuracy concerns with the use of FRT such as the loss of anonymity, the lack of consent, and the fact that FRT performs better on men with lighter skin and worse on women with darker skin, which could lead to misidentification or profiling.

“Facial recognition technology can verify or identify an individual from a facial image. Advocacy groups and others have raised privacy concerns related to private companies’ use of the technology, as well as concerns that higher error rates among some demographic groups could lead to disparate treatment,” the report stated.

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