Biometrics

Facebook shut down its facial-recognition tech, but left Meta’s door open

The announcement follows years of fighting tooth-and-nail, in and out of court, for its use of facial recognition.
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Meta

· 3 min read

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How’s this for meta: Facebook is shutting down its facial-recognition program...but its newly rebranded parent company may not be.

On Tuesday, the tech giant announced that in the coming weeks, it will shutter the use of facial-recognition tech (FRT) on Facebook, deleting more than 1 billion “individual facial recognition templates” and discontinuing automatic recognition of users in photos and videos.

But, but, but: Meta can’t say the same. Though privacy advocates have celebrated the announcement as a step in the right direction after years of controversy over FRT’s potential harms, Meta has left the door open to the use of FRT more broadly.

  • The company’s blog post is careful to repeat, for instance, that it’s ending use of its face-recognition system on Facebook—but it’s already experimenting with biometrics in its metaverse products.
  • “We believe this has the potential to enable positive use cases in the future that maintain privacy, control and transparency,” the company wrote in a blog post.

And that’s not all: Meta is keeping the machine-learning algorithm behind its facial recognition and auto-tagging features handy, Recode reported.

The company’s “DeepFace” algorithm is what connects the dots between users’ facial templates and the photos they appear in—and though those facial templates will reportedly be deleted, Meta hasn’t ruled out using the algorithm itself for future products.

  • Meta wrote that it still sees FRT as a “powerful tool” in certain cases and that for “potential future applications of technologies like this, we’ll continue to be public about intended use.”

And although Facebook spun its decision as a societal one, the announcement follows years of fighting tooth-and-nail, in and out of court, for its use of FRT.

In 2020, Facebook settled a class-action lawsuit for $650 million in Illinois that alleged the company violated state legislation—specifically, a law prohibiting the use of Illinois residents’ biometric information without their consent. And in 2019, Facebook’s FRT was cited in its $5 billion FTC settlement. In the years before that, Facebook used an “NRA approach” to help prevent FRT laws on the state level, one source told Slate in 2017.

In other words...
Though Meta’s blog post said the company needs to “weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules,” it’s possible that lawsuits, fines, and bad press might be its chief concerns.

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