Facebook has announced that it is shutting down its facial recognition system which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing societal concerns about the use of such technology.
"Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use," said Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, in a blog post.
The company, which last week renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc, said more than one-third of Facebook's daily active users have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site.
The change will now delete the "facial recognition templates" of more than 1 billion people.
The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesperson said.
Facebook added that its automatic alt text tool, which creates image descriptions for visually impaired people, will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos after the removal of face recognition, but will otherwise function normally.
The removal of face recognition by the world's largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning over the past few years amid criticism that the technology could falsely identify people as part of crimes, or favor white faces over people of color.
Facebook has also been under intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.
Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame in the US, said the decision “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the company”.
She added that the move also demonstrated the power of regulatory pressure, as the face recognition system had been the subject of harsh criticism for more than a decade.
Researchers and privacy activists have spent years raising questions about the technology, citing studies that found it worked unevenly across boundaries of race, gender or age.
Some US cities have moved to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other municipal departments.
In 2019, San Francisco became the first US city to outlaw the technology, which has long alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.
Meta’s newly wary approach to facial recognition follows decisions by other US tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM last year to end or pause their sales of facial recognition software to police, citing concerns about false identifications and amid a broader US reckoning over-policing and racial injustice.
US president Joe Biden’s science and technology office in October launched a fact-finding mission to look at facial recognition and other biometric tools used to identify people or assess their emotional or mental states and character.
European regulators and politicians have also taken steps towards blocking law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces, as part of broader efforts to regulate the riskiest applications of artificial intelligence.