Facebook facial recognition stops but may return to the device

Meta announced the shutdown of the facial recognition system used on its Facebook social media network. However, the company will likely still use facial recognition on the device in future hardware.

In a post on the Facebook blog, the vice president of artificial intelligence, Jerome Pesenti, points out that the system would not only be shut down in the coming weeks, but all associated data would also be deleted. This “will result in the removal of over a billion individual facial recognition models from over a billion people.” “

The system is currently used on Facebook to identify and recognize the faces of Facebook users that appear in photos on the social media network, uploaded by themselves or by others. This had various uses, including suggested / automatic tagging of people in photos and an automatic alt text generator, which used AI to form a description of visually impaired people and identify if their Facebook friends were appearing in a photo.

The decision to remove and terminate the system is part of “a company-wide move away from this type of broad identification and towards narrower forms of personal authentication.” Pesenti says that while there are useful applications for facial recognition systems, they must also “be balanced against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole.”

While the vast system used on the Facebook platform is being shut down, the director of Meta still believes there will remain “a narrow set of use cases” where facial recognition technology is appropriate. One of these could be identity verification using an on-device facial recognition system, or potentially to pilot some form of photorealistic “Codec Avatars” in development from Meta.

About the recognition on the device, Pesenti said this:

This on-device facial recognition method, requiring no facial data communication with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in systems used to unlock smartphones.

We believe this has the potential to enable positive use cases in the future that maintain privacy, control, and transparency, and it’s an approach we’ll continue to explore as we review how our future platforms -forms and computing devices can better meet people’s needs.

Meta also recently announced that it will no longer require Oculus Quest headsets to be linked to a Facebook account starting in 2022, and owners of existing headsets will soon be able to unlink their Facebook account from their Quest.

This series of recent policy changes likely indicates that Meta will eventually release a VR headset that can be unlocked with face verification on the device and no requirement to log in or link your Facebook profile.

VR / AR meta-VP and new 2022 CTO Andrew Bosworth tweeted (embedded above) that the decision to move away from wide facial recognition on Facebook is “very important” and encouraged further discussion on the implications of emerging technologies.

You can read Jérôme Pesenti’s full message here.

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