Facebook is shutting down its face recognition system

Public backlash plays a large role.

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A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person's eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. Facebook Inc recorded a slight increase in government requests for account data in the second half of 2014, according to its Global Government Requests Report, which includes information about content removal.Requests for account data increased to 35,051 in the second half of 2014 from 34,946 in the first half, with requests from countries such as India rising and those from others including United States and Germany falling, the report by the world's largest Internet social network showed. Facebook said it restricted 9,707 pieces of content for violating local laws, 11 percent more than in the first half, with access restricted to 5,832 pieces in India and 3,624 in Turkey. Picture taken on March 13. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: SOCIETY PORTRAIT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS TELECOMS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Meta is further backing away from facial recognition. The company has announced it's shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook in the "coming weeks." You'll no longer be automatically recognized in photos if you opted in to the feature, and the Facebook team will delete over a billion facial recognition templates. Automatic Alt Text's descriptions for the visually impaired will also stop naming people detected in photos.

The company said it made the decision following "growing concerns" about the broader use of facial recognition, including "uncertainty" about regulation of the technology. While Meta believed face recognition could still be helpful in some situations, such as gaining access to a locked account, it felt a "narrower," more privacy-oriented approach was a better fit than the broader outgoing strategy. On-device recognition wouldn't require sharing data with outside servers, for example.

There was already significant pressure to shut down the system. Meta (then Facebook) settled a privacy lawsuit over facial recognition for $650 million in 2020, and it likely isn't eager to grapple with similar cases. Governments ranging from Massachusetts to the European Union have either passed or are strongly considering at least partial bans on facial recognition use. Facebook's opt-in system may not have explicitly run afoul of those laws, but the message is clear: wide-ranging facial recognition systems aren't very welcome.

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Not now

As it stands, Meta isn't alone. Amazon now has an indefinite ban on police use of its Rekognition platform, and Google has declined to sell facial recognition tech since 2018. Although Meta hasn't completely given up on the concept, it's clearly eager to be seen as forward-thinking — and continue mending its less-than-stellar reputation for privacy.

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Facebook is shutting down its face recognition system