Apply enough pressure, and even Facebook will buckle.
The tech giant, which recently rebranded as Meta, announced Tuesday that it intends to disable Facebook’s facial recognition features. While a massive win for privacy activists and users, the move is a limited one that does not preclude the company from using future forms of facial recognition tech on its billions of users.
“We’re shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook,” reads the blog post — careful to make the distinction that this change is coming to the Facebook service, not the parent company Meta. “People who’ve opted in will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos and we will delete more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.”
In other words, Meta (née Facebook) is leaving the door open to use facial recognition tech on its other many services like Instagram, WhatsApp, and everything to do with virtual reality and the company’s version of the metaverse.
“We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts,” continues the blog post by Jerome Pesenti, Meta’s VP of Artificial Intelligence.
Consider yourself warned, in other words. It is worth celebrating the — albeit limited — win for privacy, however. As part of the announcement, Meta confirmed that it “will delete the facial recognition template used to identify” users.
“This is great news for Facebook users,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation in response to the news, “and for the global movement pushing back on this technology.”
Meta’s decision did not come in a vacuum. Facebook has faced pressure to rein in facial recognition tech from lawmakers, courts, and privacy activists across the world — something the name change to Meta was not likely to alleviate.
In 2020, cities across the country passed various bans on the use of facial recognition tech. With documented cases of faulty facial recognition technology leading to false arrests and imprisonment, the movement against it was likely to gain steam.
Meta, in other words, saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to get ahead of it while leaving its options open for future. So don’t applaud the Mark Zuckerberg for doing the right thing — thank the activists and lawmakers who pressured him to do it.