Facebook to stop using facial recognition and wipe data from a billion users

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It’s a major turnaround. Facebook announced Tuesday that it would no longer use, on its platform, facial recognition which identifies, since 2010, a person in photos or videos posted on the social network. A decision that comes as other giants – including Microsoft, Amazon and IBM – have also distanced themselves from a technology that raises “growing societal concerns,” says Facebook.

The Californian group embroiled in scandals over its business model also indicated that it would delete facial recognition data accumulated on more than a billion users, according to a statement. In September, Facebook had to apologize after suggesting “primate videos” under a clip showing black people.

“This change will represent one of the most important developments in terms of the use of facial recognition in the history of this technology,” noted Jerome Pesenti, the company’s vice-president in charge of artificial intelligence. “More than a third of daily Facebook users have facial recognition enabled and can be recognized,” he said. “More than a billion digital facial recognition models” will therefore be deleted.

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This unexpected move means that some popular network tools will no longer work: when a user posts a photo, the algorithm will no longer guess the names of people on it, for example.

Meta, the brand new parent company of Facebook and its other platforms (Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.), recognizes that this technology can be useful on a daily basis, in particular for unlocking the screen of your smartphone. But it also raises “many concerns”, especially as the authorities have not yet provided “clear rules” on its use, said Jerome Pesenti. “Given the current uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a limited number of cases is appropriate.”

Facebook is currently facing waves of accusations related to the leak of internal documents orchestrated by a whistleblower. The computer scientist Frances Haugen assured, in front of the American Congress, the European Parliament or the participants of the Web Summit in Lisbon that the social network put its profits before the safety of the users.

Facebook is not alone in making such a decision. In 2020, IBM announced that it would no longer market facial recognition tools. Microsoft has stopped selling its technology to the police, and Amazon has done the same with a one-year moratorium that was extended this summer in the face of the risk of discrimination, particularly among minorities.

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