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Facebook Shuts Down Facial Recognition System

In this April 14, 2020 file photo, the thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
In this April 14, 2020 file photo, the thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Facebook Shuts Down Facial Recognition System
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Facebook says it is ending its facial recognition system that automatically identifies users in pictures and videos.

The company’s Vice President of Artificial Intelligence, Jerome Pesenti, announced the change this week in a statement on the company’s corporate website.

Pesenti said the decision to end the system was “part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products.” The facial recognition system on Facebook is to be ended “in the coming weeks.”

The move comes as the social media service faces accusations that it failed to take action to protect users even though its own research suggested its products can be harmful. In the past, Facebook has also faced widespread criticism for not doing enough to protect the privacy of its users.

The decision also followed a company announcement that it was changing its name from Facebook to Meta. Industry experts have said the name change appeared to be an attempt to move attention away from unfavorable media attention in recent months.

“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history,” Pesenti said in his statement. As a result, “more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates” will be removed, the statement added.

Meta has said that more than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have given their permission to have their faces recognized by the social network’s system. That represents about 640 million people worldwide.

Facebook first started offering facial recognition about 10 years ago. But over time, it has made it easier for users to opt out of the system as it faced more pressure from courts and government officials.

Pesenti said the company still sees facial recognition technology as a powerful tool. But he noted that the situations where it can be helpful “need to be weighed against growing concerns about this technology as a whole.”

He said examples of acceptable uses of the technology would be to confirm a person’s identity or prevent fraudulent activities. He added that Meta will continue working on facial recognition for such uses and would seek out the opinions of outside experts before deciding on how it will use the technology in the future.

Kristen Martin is a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She told The Associated Press that Facebook's decision to shut down the system “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the company.” She added that the move also demonstrates the power of public and regulatory pressure, since the facial recognition system has long been the subject of strong criticism.

Facial recognition technology has been used by other industries as well, such as retail businesses, security companies and by some law enforcement agencies. But critics say such systems have a high failure rate, especially when attempting to identify members of some minority groups. Facial recognition technology has also led to major concerns over privacy and ethics issues.

Several American cities have passed bans on the use of facial recognition systems. And major technology companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google, have stopped selling facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies.

Adam Schwartz is a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He told the Reuters news agency that Facebook's action comes after moves by other tech companies. Still, he said, it could mark a "notable moment in the national turning-away from face recognition.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Facebook. Ashley Thompson the editor.

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Words in This Story

automatic – adj. something controlled using machines and not people

shift – n. a change in something

template – n. a system that helps organize information on a computer screen

opt out – phr v. to choose not to be part of an activity or to stop being involved in it

fraudulent – adj. dishonest and illegal

ethics – n. ideas and beliefs about what kind of behavior is morally right or wrong

regulatory – adj. controlling an activity or process, especially by using rules

retail – n. the activity of selling products to the public in shops and on the internet​