Meta FacebookSource: Alex Dobie / Android Central

What you need to know

  • Facebook's facial recognition system is being shut down and its associated data deleted.
  • Meta says that a third of its users previously opted-in to having their face be automatically recognized for photo tagging, totaling over one billion recognized faces.
  • This move will affect automatic alt text entries, which automatically created image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people.

Meta says it will be shutting down the long-held facial recognition system on its Facebook social platform "in the coming weeks," according to a blog post by Jerome Pesenti, vice-president of artificial intelligence at Meta. What's more, the company will be deleting over one billion recognized faces in its database, citing societal concerns as the reason for the move and to pre-empt regulatory control after a tumultuous year for the brand.

Shutting this system down will remove the ability for Facebook to automatically tag people in photos, as well as create alt text descriptions of people in photos — a feature used to help blind and visually-impaired people better use the platform. The system will still be able to count the number of people in a photo and relay that information to users, however.

Photos can still be manually tagged with people's names. Likewise, alt text descriptions for images will still function so long as photos are properly tagged manually.

This same system was used to alert people when they were tagged in photos. As such, those alerts will no longer be available after the system is put to bed.

Meta says that some facial recognition will still be used in certain cases to verify identity, such as when someone gets locked out of their Facebook account, when financial services are used, or when unlocking a personal device.

Anyone who has previously enrolled in the facial recognition system will have their facial recognition template automatically deleted over the coming weeks as the system is shut down. Users who have not previously opted in to using Facebook's Face Recognition System will not have to do anything.

This comes after sweeping changes are being made to the company, which was recently rebranded from Facebook to Meta. Changes include removing the requirement to use a Facebook account for Oculus devices and is ushering in what looks to be significant changes to how it treats user privacy on its platforms.