Shortly following its rebranding as Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook has also announced that it is shutting down the Face Recognition system on Facebook.

Users who have opted into the system will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos, and Meta will delete more than a billion people’s facial recognition templates, per the company’s update.

This seems like a good move for users concerned about privacy – although being on Facebook at all seems to run counter to an intense desire for privacy – but it does have negative repercussions for some users. Just last week we wrote about new IPTC metadata standards to improve accessibility for visually impaired individuals by requiring improved text descriptions of images for screen reading software. Meta’s decision to end its Face Recognition system means that Facebook will no longer create Automatic Alt Text (AAT) to tell visually impaired Facebook users who is in a photo.

Of course, not everyone had opted into the Face Recognition system, but this decision will impact the user experience for visually impaired users. Meta says that ‘More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.’

The change also impacts notifications. Opted-in users could previously be alerted when they appeared in photos or videos posted by other Facebook users. AI also provided recommendations on who to tag, which was a boon for photos from events where not everyone knew each other.

So why is Meta making this decision? The company says it has weighed the positive use cases for facial recognition technology against growing societal concerns. It has also considered the lack of regulatory oversight of the technology. Meta writes, ‘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. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.’

Meta will continue to work on its facial recognition software and deploy it in specific situations, such as when trying to verify identity, gain access to a locked account or unlock personal devices. Meta also promises transparency and control over how facial recognition is deployed.

‘But like most challenges involving complex social issues, we know the approach we’ve chosen involves some difficult tradeoffs. For example, the ability to tell a blind or visually impaired user that the person in a photo on their News Feed is their high school friend, or former colleague, is a valuable feature that makes our platforms more accessible,’ said Meta of its decision to shutter the Face Recognition system on Facebook.

‘But it also depends on an underlying technology that attempts to evaluate the faces in a photo to match them with those kept in a database of people who opted-in. The changes we’re announcing today involve a company-wide move away from this kind of broad identification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.’

Over the next few weeks, the services powered by Face Recognition on Facebook will stop operating. This includes automatic recognition of people in a photo, AI-powered tag suggestions, changes in AAT technology for visually impaired users, and the deletion of individual facial recognition templates stored by Meta.

For additional information on the decision, visit Meta’s Facebook newsroom.

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