Jerome Pesenti, Facebook’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, explains the changes to the face recognition system that have accompanied the very recent brand name change from Facebook to Meta:
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.Jerome Pesenti, “An Update On Our Use of Face Recognition” at Meta (November 2, 2021)
Pesenti blames lack of regulatory clarity for the current situation. In any event, here’s why Meta (Facebook) is dumping face recko:
Facebook’s discontinuing of the program comes in the wake of sustained privacy and ethical concerns raised by the use of facial recognition that it could be abused to target marginalized communities, further racial bias, and normalize intrusive surveillance, leading to government bans across a number of cities in the U.S. such as Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Minneapolis, among others. In May 2021, Amazon announced it would indefinitely extend a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of its facial recognition systems.Ravie Lakshmanan, “Facebook to Shut Down Facial Recognition System and Delete Billions of Records” at The Hacker News (November 3, 2021)
Chances are, most people who opted into face recko did not know what they were in for. In any event, the new reduction on privacy invasion may not be all it seems:
The company listed 1.94 billion daily active users in the third quarter of 2021, more than 600 million of whom opted in to the Face Recognition setting.
What will change? After Facebook removes the data, the app will no longer recognize faces in a photo or offer recommendations for whom to “tag,” or identify in pictures a user posts.Carolina Lumetta, “Facebook to scrap facial recognition” at World (November 2, 2021)
… That said, Meta said it will maintain the use of face recognition in “services that help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device,” nor does it rule out incorporating biometrics into its emerging metaverse business.
Meta is also expected to retain DeepFace, the sophisticated algorithm that powers its photo-tagging facial recognition system, the company told the New York Times.Ravie Lakshmanan, “Facebook to Shut Down Facial Recognition System and Delete Billions of Records” at The Hacker News (November 3, 2021)
So yes, the real story is more complicated. Meta (Facebook) isn’t really getting rid of face recko — just removing the more obviously annoying or socially problematic parts:
However, a spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s new parent company, told Recode it hadn’t ruled out using facial recognition and other biometric systems when building out its metaverse products.
Meta spokesperson Jason Grosse said: “We believe this technology 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.Isobel Asher Hamilton, “Meta says it’s getting rid of facial recognition on Facebook — but that won’t apply to the metaverse” at Business Insider (November 4, 2021)
DeepFace is facial recognition squared:
Meta’s metaverse is a multi-user VR space currently accessed through Portal hardware. With complex avatars and real-time facial tracking on the horizon, the platform opens the door to a new level of user data collection that goes far beyond the boundaries pushed by Facebook.
Meta has not revealed what, exactly, it plans to do with DeepFace, but the company promises to keep users informed of upcoming changes.Mikey Campbell, “Meta to continue use of facial recognition technology” at Apple Insider (November 4, 2021)
“I strongly encourage government oversight,” Haugen said.
“When they say we’ve got rid of this, what does that actually mean,” she asked. “There has to be more transparency on how these operations work to make sure they actually follow through.”Thomas Escritt, “Governments must check Facebook really does scrap face recognition, whistleblower says” at Reuters (November 3, 2021)
Whether government oversight is the answer depends largely, of course, on what principles the government is committed to… For example, what, exactly, re DeepFace?
Given the role facial recognition plays in global surveillance, it’s best not to assume the best intentions. Users will, increasingly, need to take charge of their own privacy. Stay tuned.
Note: Let’s talk about the “metaverse,” a science fiction concept, another time (it “refers to a future version of the internet that users access using technology like virtual and augmented reality headsets, rather than phones or laptops.” – Business Insider).
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