Facebook offers a service for billions of their users where they create a facial recognition profile of the user and then uses it to recommend tagging in the photos of other users and to notify users when they appear in the photos of others.

Facebook says around 1/3 of their users have opted into this service, meaning Facebook has around 1 billion facial recognition profiles (and their corresponding real names) in their database.

In a shock announcement today Facebook says they are deleting this whole database over the coming weeks.

Facebook says the act is part of a move away from facial recognition in the company, due to growing concerns about the use of the technology and unclear guidance from regulators.

Facebook says the move will impact services such as Automatic Alt Text (AAT) for the blind, which will now no longer name those in a photo, and automatic user tagging of photos.  Facebook however says the improvement is worth the collateral damage.

Over the next few weeks the impact of the decision will be:

  • Facebook’s technology will no longer automatically recognize if people’s faces appear in Memories, photos or videos.
  • People will no longer be able to turn on face recognition for suggested tagging or see a suggested tag with their name in photos and videos they may appear in. Facebook will still encourage people to tag posts manually, to help you and your friends know who is in a photo or video.
  • This change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), a technology used to create image descriptions for people who are blind or visually impaired. AAT currently identifies people in about 4% of photos. After the change, AAT will still be able to recognize how many people are in a photo, but will no longer attempt to identify who each person is using facial recognition. Otherwise, AAT will continue to function normally, and Facebook will work closely with the blind and visually impaired community on technologies to continually improve AAT.
  • If you have opted into their Face Recognition setting, Facebook will delete the template used to identify you. If you have the face recognition setting turned off, there is no template to delete and there will be no change.

Facebook says they still see Facial Recognition as a useful technology, for example for unlocking your phone and other identity verification, but that the long-term role of facial recognition in society will need to be further debated.

What do our readers think of this move? Let us know below.