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Remember that controversial face photo-tagging feature Facebook uses? They’re shutting it down

Too little, too late.

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Image: KnowTechie

Good news for privacy advocates today, as Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook), is discontinuing its Facebook Face Recognition feature in the coming weeks. As part of the change, facial recognition will no longer be used for tagging people in photographs or videos, and the existing facial recognition templates that it uses will be deleted.

You might remember that in 2015, Facebook was sued for allegedly violating Illinois’ privacy laws. That lawsuit turned into a class action suit in 2018, and earlier this year, a federal judge gave final approval to a $650 million dollar settlement.

While the lawsuit was still progressing, the company made the facial recognition system opt-in only, but it seems that Meta is hoping that shutting down the program completely will garner some positive press as it completes its rebranding into “a metaverse company,” whatever the heck that means.

Over a billion Facebook users had opted-in to the Facial Recognition tool, representing a third of the daily active users. The facial recognition templates for those users are going to be deleted, and the features powered by the facial recognition tool are going to be deleted as well.

facebook facial recognition
Image: TechCrunch

That’s not to say that Meta will stop using facial recognition, or stop tinkering with more tools that will get privacy advocates mad. Meta envisions facial recognition being a “powerful tool” for identity verification or to prevent impersonation.

The company’s blog post also mentions “on-device facial recognition,” like Face ID, so perhaps they’ll just use other companies’ systems instead of creating their own.

While Meta is framing its shuttering of a highly contested technology as a positive thing, that might only be part of the picture. One of the most visible facial recognition companies, Clearview AI, has recently been banned from scraping websites, like Facebook, for images in Australia.

That blow came after a similar ban in Canada earlier this year. Meta might have been wondering just how long it would be before the courts come after their similar facial recognition database and decided to preempt a messy court fight.

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