End of an era for Facebook’s facial recognition.
On November 2, 2021, Meta, formerly known as Facebook, announced that it would be shutting down their facial recognition system amid growing societal concerns from users and regulators. Users who have previously opted in to the setting will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos, and the facial recognition template used to identify them would be deleted.
Facebook holds billions of photos of people’s faces, which have been scraped together into massive image datasets. Its algorithm has been trained to detect and recognize faces with the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Algorithms can map the face, memorize facial features and measure the distances between the eyes, nose and mouth. With them, it can determine which face belongs to which person.
Previously, users typically used the function on Facebook for photo-tagging purposes. Facebook would automatically notify users when they appeared in photos or videos posted by others. It would also provide recommendations on who to tag in photos.
Pros of facial recognition
Facial recognition technology certainly has brought convenience to social media users. Certainly, it offers more than just identifying faces on photos on Facebook. For instance, law enforcement agencies often use facial recognition to identify criminals with no other means of identification. It also helps them find missing people by comparing their faces on surveillance camera feeds with those on a watch list.
Facial recognition is also used in shops, banks and airports to identify criminals who pose threats to customers and passengers. The tool also reduces touchpoints when people unlock smart locks and mobile devices, making the process much more automatic and seamless without the need for physical contact.
Cons of facial recognition
However, as Meta said, convenience brought along by facial recognition also involves difficult tradeoffs.
One major concern with this Big Brother-like technology is the violation of personal privacy. People don’t enjoy being watched and having their faces recorded and stored in databases for unknown future use. These databases also have the potential to be hacked and breached, creating further uncertainty. Hackers have time and time again broken into databases containing facial scans harvested from social media sites that are subsequently used by banks and law enforcement agencies.
The way forward
Meta believes that facial recognition is still a valuable tool, when used responsibly. When used privately on a person’s own device, such as when people use facial scans to unlock their smartphones or door locks, the facial data wouldn’t be communicated to an external server. This approach ensures that privacy and transparency can still be maintained. Meta has promised that they’ll consider all possibilities to best serve people’s needs and live up to their responsible innovation framework.
Header image courtesy of Unsplash