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Explained: Why is Facebook shutting down its face recognition system?

The facial recognition software introduced on social media site Facebook in 2010 will be shut down. What did it do, and why is it being shut down?

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 4, 2021 10:44:10 am
Facebook, Facebook facial recognition software, face recognition system, Meta facial recognition system, Facebook user data, Indian ExpressA 3D printed Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta and Facebook logo are placed on laptop keyboard in this illustration. (Reuters: Dado Ruvic)

Newly rebranded internet giant Meta Platforms Inc announced late Tuesday that it plans to shut down the Face Recognition system — a technology it had introduced back in 2010 — on its social media site Facebook.

What did the Face Recognition system do?

This facial recognition software identified people in pictures uploaded on Facebook and suggested users to tag these people in the photos, thereby linking them to the tagged person’s profile. According to a blog post by Jerome Pesenti, VP of Artificial Intelligence at Meta, Facebook had given people the option to be automatically notified when they appear in photos or videos posted by others, and provided recommendations for who to tag in photos. These features are also powered by the Face Recognition system which the company is shutting down.

What happens as a part of this shutdown?

Pesenti wrote that more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in for the Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognised, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates. Further, the people who have opted in for the Face Recognition setting will no longer be automatically recognised in photos and videos, and Facebook will delete the facial recognition template used to identify them.

Why is Facebook shutting down the Face Recognition system?

Over the years Facebook has faced a slew of lawsuits, federal investigations in the US and general privacy concerns over issues with facial recognition being at the centre of it. Pesenti pointed out in the blog post: “Making this change required careful consideration, because we have seen a number of places where face recognition can be highly valued by people using platforms”. “But the many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole. 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,” he added.

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Is Facebook completely eliminating facial recognition technology from its platform?

A report by The New York Times says that while Facebook plans to delete facial recognition templates by December this year, it is not eliminating DeepFace — an advanced algorithm that powers the system. It cites a Meta spokesperson to say that the company has also not ruled out incorporating facial recognition technology into future products.

Where is India placed in the facial recognition technology ecosystem?

Across some of India’s busiest airports and train stations, facial recognition technology software systems are being hooked up with a progressively spreading network of closed-circuit cameras by multiple state-owned agencies to pan though databases of photos to identify people on a real-time basis. In a recent interview with The Indian Express, CEO of leading facial recognition technology provider NtechLab, Andrei Telenkov, said the company sees India as one of the priority markets for video surveillance and facial recognition technology.

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