Facebook shutting down facial recognition efforts after a decade

By month’s end, Facebook plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system, deleting the data of more than 1 billion users. Introduced in December, 2010, the facial-recognition feature automatically identified people in uploaded photos and suggested tags, which linked the accounts. In recent years, the company now known as “Meta” has become increasingly under scrutiny for its privacy practices.

“In the coming weeks, Meta will shut down the Face Recognition system on Facebook as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products,” according to Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Meta, in a blog post. “More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”

As popular and controversial as this feature is, Pesenti noted the technology was becoming a legal and regulatory problem for the social media network:

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.

Facebook has faced fines and litigation based on the technology. The Federal Trade Commission fined the company $5 billion to settle privacy complaints in 2019, and the facial recognition software was among the chief concerns. Last year, the company also agreed to pay $650 million to settle an Illinois class-action lawsuit that accused Facebook of violating a state law requiring residents’ consent to use their biometric information. (Shutterfly settled a similar suit)..