What happened now? Facial recognition technology is causing more controversy than ever. The European Parliament recently pushed for a ban on the use of technology in public places, and organizations like the ACLU have long opposed the concept. Now even Facebook is taking a step back from technology by disabling facial recognition and facial data for more than 1 billion users.
Here’s some context: prior to this change, Facebook allowed users to enable facial recognition by enabling an option in the user preferences menu. Facebook will then scan the photos and videos you uploaded to find your face, and then create a “template” that you can use to enable additional features.
For example, the platform might tell you when you “appear in photos or videos but are not tagged,” or even tell you when someone else is trying to create a Facebook profile using your likeness. The technology also serves a purpose for the blind and visually impaired, as it can describe photographs to them by ear.
Despite all these obvious benefits, the social media giant is moving forward. with this shutdown… All existing face recognition templates will be removed from the servers, and the above features will be disabled. Facebook insists that these templates have never been shared with anyone other than the user who agreed.
As far as Facebook’s reasoning goes, the move was born of pure pragmatism. The company can see where the wind is blowing and even notes on its blog that there is “growing concern” about the use of facial recognition technology in general; even if it might benefit people.
“There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still developing a clear set of rules governing its use,” writes Facebook. “In the face of continuing uncertainty, we believe it is appropriate to limit the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases.”
Facebook doesn’t specifically say it intends to take advantage of these narrow use cases, but it does provide examples such as verifying identity in financial products, unlocking personal devices, or helping people regain access to a locked (not necessarily Facebook) account.
We will continue to explore ways to responsibly implement this technology (and in line with potential legislative changes) in the future.