November 5, 2021

Facebook Going Face-Less

Mark Zuckerberg is getting rid of his company’s facial recognition program.

Since its debut a decade ago, the facial recognition software developed by Facebook — whose corporate umbrella is now called Meta — was marketed as a time-saver to its users. For example, when a user posts a picture or a video, subjects can be conveniently tagged at a mere click. But convenience and privacy often times mix as crudely as oil and water. Ergo, this software has cause more headaches for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In a blog post, Meta’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Vice President Jerome Pesenti stated, “Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance.”

Striking that right balance has been tough with facial recognition software, to say the least. This particular tech has plagued Facebook with legal troubles. In 2011, it caused controversy in several European countries. The data protection authorities there said facial recognition was illegal because it violated consent laws by the users. In 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed in Illinois against Facebook for its use of the software. Facebook ended up paying $650 million for violating state law by gathering biometric information without user consent. And in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion to settle privacy complaints.

Facial recognition software, as a general rule, has caused conflict and controversy and is rife with the potential for abuse. China uses this sort of technology to track Uyghurs. In the U.S., the police use this tech to help identify criminals. Even with the ever more accurate AI and biometrics, the possibility that it results in an innocent person going to jail or that it eradicates Americans’ privacy altogether is the ultimate danger.

Notably, Facebook is only dropping this software because it hits its pocketbook. Like other Big Tech companies, Facebook is hardly innocent when it comes to user privacy. It has allowed third-party companies to mine data for political campaigns, advertising, and other consumer-driven marketing. In the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” former executives from many of the Big Tech companies confide that they would never let their children use these platforms because of the data mining that goes on and the harmful manipulation of the algorithms that direct users down the path that platforms like Twitter or Facebook want them to go.

In recent years, Facebook along with Google and Twitter have been using their platforms to control political narratives and to shadow-ban or outright banish users with whom they don’t agree. They have displayed a distinct political bias against conservatives, as even our humble shop knows full well. Interestingly enough, Facebook has stirred the ire of both Republicans and Democrats. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asserted that Facebook is a “cancer to democracy.” But what she’s really saying is that conservatives aren’t censored enough.

Ultimately, taking away this software is not a bad thing. It will limit the ability to use that sort of data to bolster Facebook’s profit margins. This won’t be the case for long, though. The company always seems to have other ideas up its sleeves. Zuckerberg’s “Metaverse” will literally replace your reality — because to Big Tech, users are the product.

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