Meta, the newly-minted parent company of Facebook, said it would abandon facial recognition on its social platform and limit its use across all products.
The move would see the deletion of more than a billion stored faces in the coming weeks, according to a blog post from Jerome Pesenti, Meta's VP of artificial intelligence.
The deletion of such a massive database suggests Meta would also be curbing--at least initially--use of facial recognition in the company's upcoming highly-hyped "metaverse" initiatives which will include real people interacting in broad virtual spaces, including game environments.
"The many specific instances where facial recognition can be helpful need to be weighed against growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole," wrote Pesenti.
"There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use," he said. "Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate."
Facebook rebranded (as a parent company) to Meta last week, announcing ambitious plans to launch its own virtual world dubbed "Horizon." The company is also working on a mixed-reality headset called "Project Cambria," and AR glasses called "Nazaré." Smartglasses and other kinds of AR technology in particular are prime formats to apply facial recognition.
Today's announcement was immediately focused on facial recognition on Facebook's "Memories," photos, and videos, but Pesenti said the decision is "part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products."
As companies like Meta make moves to create expansive, interconnected worlds where lines are blurred between digital and reality, privacy concerns are becoming increasingly relevant. Socially-charged issues like facial recognition-based surveillance, racially-biased policing, and other highly-scrutinized applications have challenged development and deployment of such technology.
Pesenti said the shutdown of facial recognition on Facebook also means the loss of the company's Automatic Alt Text technology, which helps create image descriptions for the blind and visually impaired.
Today's announcement doesn't necessarily mean facial recognition will never make it into future Facebook or Meta products. Pesenti wrote, "We believe facial recognition can help for [anti-fraud products] 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."