Facebook Abandons Facial Recognition System Long Targeted by EPIC

November 2, 2021

Facebook announced Tuesday that it will end its use of facial recognition over “growing societal concerns,” bringing an end to a deeply controversial practice that EPIC twice targeted in complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. Since 2010, Facebook has used facial recognition to identify people who appear in users’ photos and videos and to suggest that users tag them. But as EPIC explained in a 2011 FTC complaint, this system was deployed “without the knowledge or consent of Facebook users and without adequate consideration of the risks to Facebook users.” In 2018, EPIC again highlighted the lack of privacy safeguards on Facebook’s facial recognition system and argued that its use violated the FTC’s 2011 Facebook consent order. Although the FTC ordered Facebook in 2019 to delete some facial recognition data and to obtain express consent from users in the future, Facebook was allowed to keep using the technology. “This was a known problem that we called out over 10 years ago but it dragged out for a long time,” EPIC Executive Director Alan Butler told the New York Times. “We need more clear legal rules and principles and a regulator that is actively looking into these issues day in and day out.” In addition to abandoning its use of facial recognition, Facebook said it would delete the facial scan data that it had improperly obtained from over a billion users. EPIC has long fought to protect the privacy of social media users, for a ban on face surveillance, and for the enactment of comprehensive federal privacy legislation that includes a data protection agency.

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