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Facebook ditches facial recognition feature, to delete data

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Facebook announced Tuesday that it's ditching the facial recognition system it uses to recognize and automatically tag people in photos and videos on the platform.

In addition to halting the use of the software, the company said it's deleting stored facial recognition data on more than 1 billion users.

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Facebook Vice President of artificial intelligence Jerome Pesenti said the company is attempting to weigh the benefits of the technology against the growing concerns.

"Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance," he wrote in a blog post. "In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it. We will continue engaging in that conversation and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion."

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Pesenti said Facebook's decision to shut down facial recognition will impact other features on the social media network, including Automatic Alt Text, which provides image descriptions for blind and visually impaired users. The feature will no longer be able to include the names of people automatically identified in photos.

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People will also no longer be automatically tagged in photos or videos, nor will Facebook automatically identify people's faces in Memories posts.

Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at Notre Dame, told CNN the move was "a good example of regulatory pressure."

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"The volume of images Facebook had to maintain and secure was a constant vulnerability for Facebook -- both in terms of cost but also in terms of trust," she said.

"Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity, or to prevent fraud and impersonation," Pesenti said. "We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts."

The announcement comes more than a year after Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for violating Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act. The state accused the company of failing to get users' consent before enabling the facial recognition feature.

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