In a surprise move, Facebook announced today (Nov. 2) that it was shutting down its onsite facial-recognition program, effective over "the coming weeks."
Facebook's Face Recognition is the feature that allows the social network to accurately spot and tag persons in uploaded photographs and video clips. Facebook will still let its users tag other users manually.
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You can opt out of Face Recognition (see below), but Facebook's own memo today said that "more than a third of Facebook's daily active users" — in other words, about a billion people — had "opted into" Face Recognition. (We remember having to opt out, not opt in, but maybe the settings changed.)
"We will delete more than a billion people's individual facial recognition templates," the official Facebook blog post (opens in new tab) said. "People who have opted in to our Face Recognition setting will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos."
Why kill off Face Recognition?
With this move, Facebook, ahem, Meta, is demonstrating that it's willing to kill off a potential cash cow to throw the hounds off the scent (excuse the mixed animal metaphors). Facebook's Face Recognition works creepily well, and it could have made the company billions if they'd ever decided to license it to third parties.
But with the company under sustained fire from politicians and regulators across the world, a huge cache of internal documents leaked to the press, and the corporate pivot to virtual reality that accompanied the name change to "Meta" last week, facial recognition may have seemed like a poison pill that would just get Facebook/Meta into further trouble.
"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," said the Facebook blog post. "Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate."
So in that spirit, Facebook will still use facial recognition to "help people gain access to a locked account, verify their identity in financial products or unlock a personal device."
Aside from the fact that Face Recognition was popular enough so that a billion people chose to participate in it, it also helped Facebook users with visual impairments know who was in a posted photo. That service will also be discontinued.
How to turn off Facebook's Face Recognition
If you can't wait for Facebook to kill Face Recognition, here's how to opt out of it right now from a desktop browser.
Click the drop-down arrow in the top right of your Facebook page and click Settings & Privacy > Privacy Shortcuts > Control face recognition (in the center navigation bar under Privacy) > Edit > No.