It shouldn’t be for Mark Zuckerberg to set the rules for facial recognition technology
What is Facebook without faces? The social networking site announced this week that it would shut down its facial recognition tool and remove the face models it owns for more than a billion faces because “there are many concerns” about the technology. What not to like?
Well, given what we know about Facebook, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t an entirely spontaneous act of kindness.
The company was forced to pay a $ 650 million facial recognition settlement in a lawsuit in Illinois and given that it has already formed a powerful facial recognition tool, known as DeepFace, from user photos, maybe it just isn’t worth it anymore.
But his decision is a reminder that all the activity of mass biometric data collection is moving fast and is largely unregulated.
Facial recognition technology has been strangely uncontroversial so far. This is because the cameras do it passively.
But imagine, for example, that a privately hired forensic scientist follows you as you shop, dusting every product you touch for fingerprints, then storing them in a private database. You would probably be at least slightly upset.
Yet that is precisely what is happening with your face. Specifically, in this case it is happening in Southern Co-op stores, a chain of cooperatives in the south of England.
Our faces, like our steps and voices, are unique to each of us and can identify a person in the same way blood and fingerprints can. Yet unlike DNA or fingerprints, facial recognition data is not subject to any rules in this country regarding how it is stored or who can access it.
We rely on the benevolence of individual police forces, councils and private companies to ensure that it is not misused. It sounds like an oversight, to put it mildly.
Given the ubiquity of camera phones, anonymity is one of the few privacy features we have left.
Facial recognition can be useful in situations where a person has to prove their identity or to catch a criminal.
But on a systemic scale, it’s smarter than good, allowing companies, dishonest individuals or governments to mark people as suspicious, to profile, to monitor, to embarrass, to blackmail, to manipulate, to control. or to develop ever more powerful tools to market products, ideas and beliefs. to us while we go about our daily business.
And it will inevitably be deployed militarily and for drone assassination purposes.
More and more, IT people are avoiding the whole field. Toby Walsh, a prominent Australian professor of artificial intelligence, says he thought there were positive benefits to this, but now refuses to work on facial recognition because “there are too many negatives.”
Facebook’s newly renamed parent company Meta may be in damage limitation mode, following leaks revealing knowledge of its sites’ role in adolescent eating disorders, religious hatred and human trafficking.
But his statement announcing the end of Facebook’s facial recognition tool spends a lot more time extolling the virtues of the technology than discussing its risks.
This is because Facebook has no plans to stop facial recognition. The new virtual reality “metaverse” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to build will rely on digitizing faces to create avatars and he seeks to embed the technology into “smart glasses” that would identify anyone the wearer sees.
So yes, the decision to remove a billion face models is a good one. But it shouldn’t be for Mr. Zuckerberg to do it.