Meta: Facebook Facial Recognition Shut Down But May Return On-Device

Meta announced it will shut down the facial recognition system used across its Facebook social media network. However, the company will likely still employ on-device facial recognition in future hardware.

In a post on the Facebook blog, VP of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti outlines that the system would not only be turned off in the coming weeks, but all associated data would also be deleted. This will “result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates. ”

The system is currently used on Facebook to identify and recognize the faces of Facebook users who appear in photos on the social media network, uploaded by themselves or 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 for the visually-impaired and identify if their Facebook friends appeared in a photo.

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

While the broad system used across the Facebook platform is being shut down, Meta’s director’s still believe that there will remain “a narrow set of use cases” where facial recognition technology will be appropriate. One of these could be identity verification using an on-device facial recognition system, or potentially for driving some form of Meta’s in-development photorealisitc ‘Codec Avatars’.

Talking about on-device recognition, Pesenti had this to say:

This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in the 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 consider how our future computing platforms and devices can best serve people’s needs.

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

This slew of recent policy changes likely points to Meta eventually releasing a VR headset that can be unlocked with on-device facial verification and no requirement to connect or link your Facebook profile.

Meta VP of VR/AR and incoming 2022 CTO Andrew Bosworth tweeted (embedded above) that the decision to move away from broad facial recognition on Facebook is “very important” and encouraged continued discussion about the implications of emerging technologies.

You can read the full post by Jerome Pesenti here.

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