Facebook has announced it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete faceprints of more than one billion people.
The news came on Tuesday in blog post from Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta.
“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology's history,” he said.
“More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people's individual facial recognition templates.”
Facebook had already been scaling back its use of facial recognition after introducing it more than a decade ago.
The company in 2019 ended its practice of using face recognition software to identify users’ friends in uploaded photos and automatically suggesting they “tag” them.
Facebook was sued in Illinois over the tag suggestion feature.
Mr Pesenti said the company was trying to weigh the positive use cases for the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules”.
The U-turn follows last Thursday’s announcement that it was renaming itself Meta to focus on building technology for what it envisions as the next iteration of the internet, known as the “metaverse”.
The company is also facing perhaps its biggest public relation crisis to date after leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that it has known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them.
Some US cities have moved to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other municipal departments. In 2019, San Francisco became the first to outlaw the technology, which has long alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.
Meta's wary approach to facial recognition follows decisions by other tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM last year to end or pause their sales of facial recognition software to police, citing concerns about false identifications and amid a broader reckoning in America over policing and racial injustice.