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Forget You Ever Tagged Me

A tablet surrounded by loose wires shows a glitching facial scan on the screen.

Francis Scialabba

Facebook is shutting down its decade-old facial recognition software, the company announced yesterday. As part of the change, the newly minted Meta will delete the facial scan data of more than 1 billion users from its social network.
The technology, introduced in December 2010, automatically recognizes the identity of people in photos and videos and suggests that users tag them. Before that, if you recall, we had to tag people in images ourselves or (if you can believe) leave a photo untagged altogether and suffer the consequences of fewer likes.
What’s changing:
Users’ faces will no longer be recognized in photos, videos, or Memories on Facebook. Tagging is still possible, but it will have to be done manually.
Users who have opted in to the technology will have their templates deleted.
In a blog post, Meta’s VP of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti cited a lack of clear regulation by the government and “concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society” as the main reasons behind the company’s decision.
What concerns?
How much time do you have? What initially seemed like an innocuous feature to save you precious seconds while you dropped apple picking albums on the timeline has become a highly controversial technology seen by critics as a privacy nightmare. The ACLU calls facial recognition tech an unprecedented threat that “gives governments, companies, and individuals the power to spy on us wherever we go.”
There’s also the issue of algorithmic bias. An MIT study of facial analysis software showed an error rate of 0.8% in the identification of light-skinned men, but that jumps to 34.7% for dark-skinned women.
Zoom out: Despite heavy investments by tech giants, facial recognition has suffered some major setbacks. Last year, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM announced they would stop selling facial recognition software to police departments, who have come under scrutiny for using the technology to identify protesters. And Baltimore, Portland, and New York City have begun regulating private and public sector use of biometric data like face scans.—