Facebook’s Facial Recognition Technology Will No Longer Default To ‘On’

Call it an about-face ― that’s about faces.

On Tuesday, Facebook reversed a years-old policy about facial recognition technology on the platform. It will now require new users to explicitly opt in to the use of facial recognition tech, rather than making it the default setting.

Meanwhile, existing users familiar with the “tag suggestions” option will see those prompts disappear. A new “face recognition setting” will take its place ― and unlike tag suggestions, it too will be off by default.

Facebook artificial intelligence lead Srinivas Narayanan explained the changes in a blog post, noting that users who opt in to face recognition will help Facebook weed out fake accounts that impersonate real people by using stolen photos.

Affected users will encounter the below prompt asking them to either opt in or opt out:

Facebook users who didn’t previously have the face recognition option will see this prompt, and will have to explicitly opt in to the program.

Earlier this summer, Facebook lost an appeal in a class action lawsuit claiming that, under a 2008 Illinois law, its facial recognition technology amounted to the illegal collection and storing of biometric data.

The lawsuit, brought in 2015, could represent a class of up to 7 million Facebook users in Illinois. With fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 allowed per violation, Facebook could potentially be on the hook for billions in damages.

“This biometric data is so sensitive that if it is compromised, there is simply no recourse,” Shawn Williams, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action suit, told Reuters in August. “It’s not like a Social Security card or credit card number where you can change the number. You can’t change your face.”

Asked if the tech policy change is in response to the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson demurred, describing Tuesday’s shift as “the last phase of a long-planned” action.

In July, the Federal Trade Commission hit Facebook with a $5 billion fine for a slew of privacy violations. Despite being the biggest FTC fine in history, it was comparatively small relative to Facebook’s tens of billions in annual revenue, and Facebook stock surged on the news.

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