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Facebook to shut down facial recognition system amid growing concerns over use of such technology

Facebook’s facial recognition system will be shut down and faceprints will be deleted for over a billion people, the social media giant has announced.

The technology automatically identifies users in pictures and videos but Facebook has decided to remove it, citing increased concerns about its use.

Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, wrote in a blog post: “This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history.

“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.”

FILE- In this April 10, 2018, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington. Last spring, as false claims about vaccine safety threatened to undermine the world's response to COVID-19, researchers at Facebook wrote that they could reduce vaccine misinformation by tweaking how vaccine posts show up on users' newsfeeds, or by turning off comments entirely. Yet despite internal documents showing these changes worked, Facebook was slow to take action. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Image: Mark Zuckerberg’s company has decided to ditch its facial recognition system

Facebook has been under the microscope in recent weeks after leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed it allegedly has known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them.

Ms Haugen, who worked at Facebook between 2018 and 2021, gave evidence in Westminster to MPs scrutinising the Online Safety Bill on 25 October, a month after the leaked documents were published by The Wall Street Journal.

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Facial recognition is popular among businesses and hospitals for security purposes, but critics have said it could compromise privacy, target marginalised groups and normalise intrusive surveillance.

Facebook said more than a third of its users have opted into the face recognition setting on its social media platform, but the change will delete templates for more than one billion people.

The tech giant added that its automatic text tool, which generates image descriptions for visually impaired people, won’t include the names of people recognised in images, but it will otherwise function normally.

The change will be rolled out globally and is set to be complete by the end of the year, a spokesperson said.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves parliament in London
Image: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked documents which showed the firm allegedly knew about the harm its products cause

The technology will now be limited to certain services such as helping people gain access to their locked accounts or unlock a personal device, according to Facebook.

In 2019, Facebook stopped using the software to identify users’ friends in uploaded pictures and automatically suggested they “tag” them, while San Francisco became the first US city to ban the use of the technology.

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Facebook’s decision follows the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, which last year ended or paused the sale of facial recognition software to police over concerns of false identifications.

This is the latest change at Facebook in recent days after it announced on 28 October it would be changing its company name to Meta.

The company has rebranded to focus on building technology for the “metaverse“, which it sees as the next stage of the internet.