TECHNOLOGY

Facebook, Citing Societal Concerns, Plans to Shut Down Facial Recognition System

Saying it wants “to find the right balance” with the technology, the social network will delete the face scan data of more than one billion users.

Facebook plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system this month, deleting the face scan data of more than one billion users and effectively eliminating a feature that has fueled privacy concerns, government investigations, a class-action lawsuit and regulatory woes.

Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Meta, Facebook’s newly named parent company, said in a blog post on Tuesday that the social network was making the change because of “many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society.” He added that the company still saw the software as a powerful tool, but “every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance.”

The decision shutters a feature that was introduced in December 2010 so that Facebook users could save time. The facial-recognition software automatically identified people who appeared in users’ digital photo albums and suggested users “tag” them all with a click, linking their accounts to the images. Facebook now has built one of the largest repositories of digital photos in the world, partly thanks to this software.

Facial-recognition technology, which has advanced in accuracy and power in recent years, has increasingly been the focus of debate because of how it can be misused by governments, law enforcement and companies. In China, authorities use the capabilities to track and control the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority. In the United States, law enforcement has turned to the software to aid policing, leading to fears of overreach and mistaken arrests. Some cities and states have banned or limited the technology to prevent potential abuse.

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