Facebook is deleting more than one billion users' facial recognition templates and turning off facial recognition capabilities amid what the company called "ongoing uncertainty" about the proper role of facial recognition technology in society. Facebook began offering users the ability to automatically detect their faces in photos uploaded to the platform in 2010.
"This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology's history," Jerome Pesenti, Facebook's vice president of artificial intelligence, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "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."
Facebook will still enable facial recognition for certain functions, like helping people access locked accounts and verify their identities, Pesenti wrote. "While we will continue working on use cases like these, we will ensure people have transparency and control over whether they are automatically recognized," he said.
The changes will affect functionality, including automatic tagging suggestions and automatic alt text, which is auto-generated descriptive text for people who are blind or visually impaired. "After the change, AAT will still be able to recognize how many people are in a photo, but will no longer attempt to identify who each person is using facial recognition," Pesenti wrote.
The use of facial recognition by tech companies including Facebook has been deeply controversial, particularly as Facebook ventures into the world of augmented and virtual reality. Last year, Buzzfeed reported that Facebook was weighing whether to add facial recognition to its new smart glasses.