This isn’t the Metaverse; it’s Bizzaro World. Just one week after changing its name to Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook says it will no longer run facial recognition software on its social media platform. This decision is part of a “company-wide move” to limit the use of facial recognition in products and services, according to Jerome Pesenti, Meta’s VP of Artificial Intelligence.
Over the coming weeks, Facebook will strip the facial recognition software from its website and delete all data related to users’ faces. Any Facebook features that rely on facial recognition will also disappear—you won’t get suggestions for who to tag in photos, and automatic alt text (photo descriptions for blind or partially sighted users) will no longer identify subjects by name.
In a press release, Jerome Pesenti cites “societal concerns” as the driving force behind this change. He says that we need to weigh the “pros and cons” of facial recognition for future products, though of course, he doesn’t mention any actual drawbacks to the technology.
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.
While we wish that Facebook would outright acknowledge the dangers of facial recognition, we’re happy to see the company do something right for once. Facebook reportedly held one of the largest facial recognition databases in the world, and could identify a person’s location at any time based on photos and videos posted by other users. That creates a lot of potential for abuse!
But why is Facebook killing the facial recognition system that it spent a decade building? I know it sounds cynical, but the social media giant is probably just looking for some good PR. Facebook is currently knee-deep in some of the most disturbing controversies imaginable, and instead of facing the consequences for its actions, it’s made an incredible effort to rebrand itself.
Bear in mind that only 35% of Facebook users actually opted to join the company’s facial recognition program—it’s not popular. Plus, government regulation (encouraged by Microsoft and other corporations) could limit the use of this technology in the near future. By ditching its facial recognition software today, Facebook can avoid a future headache and enjoy a rare wave of praise.
Just to reiterate, Facebook isn’t totally giving up on facial recognition technology. Meta will continue to research facial recognition, and we expect the technology to show up in future VR or AR devices (likely for user login).