Meta, the company that used to be known as Facebook, announced on Monday that it would be shutting down “the Face Recognition system on Facebook,” a technology that has sparked privacy concerns since its debut.
- 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.
- This change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people. After this change, AAT descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos but will function normally otherwise.
- We need to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.
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. As part of this change, people who have opted in to our Face Recognition setting will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos, and we will delete the facial recognition template used to identify them.
This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history. 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.
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. For example, our award-winning automatic alt text system, that uses advanced AI to generate descriptions of images for people who are blind and visually impaired, uses the Face Recognition system to tell them when they or one of their friends is in an image.
For many years, Facebook has also 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 we are shutting down.
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. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts.
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.
This includes services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device. These are places where facial recognition is both broadly valuable to people and socially acceptable, when deployed with care. While we will continue working on use cases like these, we will ensure people have transparency and control over whether they are automatically recognized.
But like most challenges involving complex social issues, we know the approach we’ve chosen involves some difficult tradeoffs. For example, the ability to tell a blind or visually impaired user that the person in a photo on their News Feed is their high school friend, or former colleague, is a valuable feature that makes our platforms more accessible. But it also depends on an underlying technology that attempts to evaluate the faces in a photo to match them with those kept in a database of people who opted-in. The changes we’re announcing today involve a company-wide move away from this kind of broad identification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.
Facial recognition can be particularly valuable when the technology operates privately on a person’s own devices. This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in the systems used to unlock smartphones.
We believe this has the potential to enable positive use cases in the future that maintain privacy, control and transparency, and it’s an approach we’ll continue to explore as we consider how our future computing platforms and devices can best serve people’s needs. For potential future applications of technologies like this, we’ll continue to be public about intended use, how people can have control over these systems and their personal data, and how we’re living up to our responsible innovation framework.
Ending the use of our existing Face Recognition system means the services it enables will be removed over the coming weeks, as will the setting allowing people to opt into the system.
This will 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. After the change, AAT will still be able to recognize how many people are in a photo, but will no longer attempt to identify who each person is using facial recognition. Otherwise, AAT will continue to function normally, and we’ll work closely with the blind and visually impaired community on technologies to continually improve AAT. You can learn more about what these changes mean for people who use AAT on the Facebook Accessibility page.
- 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.
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 and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion.