Facebook to shut down face-recognition system, delete data

In this May 16, 2012, file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. Facebook said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete faceprints of more than 1 billion people. (AP)
In this May 16, 2012, file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. Facebook said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete faceprints of more than 1 billion people. (AP)
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Updated 03 November 2021

Facebook to shut down face-recognition system, delete data

In this May 16, 2012, file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia. Facebook said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete faceprints of more than 1 billion people. (AP)
  • Facebook didn’t immediately respond to questions about how people could verify that their image data was deleted, or what it would be doing with the underlying technology

PROVIDENCE, R.I.: Facebook said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete the faceprints of more than 1 billion people amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse by governments, police and others.
“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
He said the company was trying to weigh the positive use cases for the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.” The company in the coming weeks will delete “more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates,” he said.
Facebook’s about-face follows a busy few weeks. On Thursday it announced its new name Meta for Facebook the company, but not the social network. The change, it said, will help it focus on building technology for what it envisions as the next iteration of the Internet — the “metaverse.”
The company is also facing perhaps its biggest public relations crisis to date after leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that it has known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to questions about how people could verify that their image data was deleted, or what it would be doing with the underlying technology.
More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to have their faces recognized by the social network’s system. That’s about 640 million people. Facebook introduced facial recognition more than a decade ago but gradually made it easier to opt out of the feature as it faced scrutiny from courts and regulators.
Facebook in 2019 stopped automatically recognizing people in photos and suggesting people “tag” them, and instead of making that the default, asked users to choose if they wanted to use its facial recognition feature.
Facebook’s decision to shut down its system “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the company,” said Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. She added that the move also demonstrates the power of public and regulatory pressure, since the face recognition system has been the subject of harsh criticism for over a decade.
Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company, appears to be looking at new forms of identifying people. Pesenti said Tuesday’s announcement involves a “company-wide move away from this kind of broad identification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.”
“Facial recognition can be particularly valuable when the technology operates privately on a person’s own devices,” he wrote. “This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in the systems used to unlock smartphones.”
Apple uses this kind of technology to power its Face ID system for unlocking iPhones.
Researchers and privacy activists have spent years raising questions about the tech industry’s use of face-scanning software, citing studies that found it worked unevenly across boundaries of race, gender or age. One concern has been that the technology can incorrectly identify people with darker skin.
Another problem with face recognition is that in order to use it, companies have had to create unique faceprints of huge numbers of people – often without their consent and in ways that can be used to fuel systems that track people, said Nathan Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought Facebook and other companies over their use of the technology.
“This is a tremendously significant recognition that this technology is inherently dangerous,” he said.
Facebook found itself on the other end of the debate last year when it demanded that facial recognition startup ClearviewAI, which works with police, stop harvesting Facebook and Instagram user images to identify the people in them.
Concerns also have grown because of increasing awareness of the Chinese government’s extensive video surveillance system, especially as it’s been employed in a region home to one of China’s largely Muslim ethnic minority populations.
Facebook’s huge repository of images shared by users helped make it a powerhouse for improvements in computer vision, a branch of artificial intelligence. Now many of those research teams have been refocused on Meta’s ambitions for augmented reality technology, in which the company envisions future users strapping on goggles to experience a blend of virtual and physical worlds. Those technologies, in turn, could pose new concerns about how people’s biometric data is collected and tracked.
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.
At least seven US states and nearly two dozen cities have limited government use of the technology amid fears over civil rights violations, racial bias and invasion of privacy.
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 lawmakers have also taken steps toward blocking law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces.
Facebook’s face-scanning practices also contributed to the $5 billion fine and privacy restrictions the Federal Trade Commission imposed on the company in 2019. Facebook’s settlement with the FTC included a promise to require “clear and conspicuous” notice before people’s photos and videos were subjected to facial recognition technology.
And the company earlier this year agreed to pay $650 million to settle a 2015 lawsuit alleging it violated an Illinois privacy law when it used photo-tagging without users’ permission.
“It is a big deal, it’s a big shift but it’s also far, far too late,” said John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC filed its first complaint with the FTC against Facebook’s facial recognition service in 2011, the year after it was rolled out.


Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
Updated 17 May 2022

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral

Senior Jerusalem Catholics condemn behavior of Israeli police at journalist’s funeral
  • The Vatican’s representative in the holy city claims raid on funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday breached 1993 religious freedom agreement
  • Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem slams ‘severe violation of international norms and regulations’

LONDON: Senior Roman Catholic figures in Jerusalem said Israel “brutally” violated religious freedom in the city after police confronted mourners at the funeral procession of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on Friday.

Police beat people carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin from St. Joseph Hospital and fired stun grenades at the crowd.

Monsignor Tomasz Grysa, the Vatican’s representative in Jerusalem, said the incident violated a 1993 agreement between the Holy See and Israel that “upholds and observes the human right of freedom of religion, which in this case has been brutally violated.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Roman Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, added: “The Israel Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force — attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients — is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.”

The statements came as part of a series of condemnations made in a press conference at St. Joseph Hospital by the leaders of 15 religious denominations based in the city.

Jamil Koussa, the hospital’s director, said he believed the police targeted Abu Akleh’s coffin, not just the mourners, in an effort to intimidate and “horrify” onlookers.

A number of medical staff were also injured by the police after they stormed the hospital. Dr. Mohammed Hmeidat, who works in the neonatal intensive care unit, told the BBC he was burned by a stun grenade.

“One of them was very close to my feet, and [it] exploded. After that, we hurried to the emergency department and [the police] also followed us [there],” he said.

Israeli law enforcement warned Jerusalem’s religious figures against making “extreme statements, which include assertions about events that are still being examined, only stir up emotions and are not responsible.

“We expect clerics to help calm the area and avoid statements that agitate it.”

Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist and a Christian, was shot while covering an Israeli military raid in a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday.

The Israel Defense Forces initially denied they were responsible for her death, but amid evidence from eyewitnesses that the fatal shot came from IDF personnel, they have since opened an investigation into the activity of their soldiers during the operation.

Israeli police, meanwhile, claimed intervention in her funeral was necessary as the journalist’s family had planned to use a hearse to transport the coffin from the hospital but the crowd had threatened the driver and appropriated the body against their wishes.

“Police were present at the incident to maintain public order and to allow the funeral to take place when there were extremists on the ground who provoked and engaged in an attempt to turn the funeral into a violent event,” the police said in a statement.

However, Abu Akleh’s brother, Tony Abu Akleh, told the BBC: “Everybody saw the pallbearers beaten savagely by batons without any mercy, without any respect to the funeral, to the dead.

“This was a national funeral for all the Palestinians to participate in…[The police] had no business to do [what they did] at the gate.”

Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina, told the BBC: “I honestly was very afraid…because [the police] started throwing stun grenades, and one of them actually threatened to beat me if I don’t move out of the way,” she said.


‘We don’t do enough moderation in Arabic’ — Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai

‘We don’t do enough moderation in Arabic’ — Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai
Updated 58 min 28 sec ago

‘We don’t do enough moderation in Arabic’ — Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai

‘We don’t do enough moderation in Arabic’ — Meta Oversight Board’s Head of Global Engagement tells AWF forum in Dubai
  • When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism

DUBAI: There is not enough Arabic-language content moderation online, the head of global engagement for Meta’s Oversight Board, Rachel Wolbers, said at the Arab Women Forum conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

“Meta and Facebook are making numerous efforts to detect fake news,” Wolbers told the audience, adding, “Detecting misinformation is a hard process.”

“I would not ignore that the company is not doing enough; the board is constantly pushing for this — it is not well developed, not well invested in,” she continued.

When it comes to content moderation, Meta and its various social-media platforms have time and again attracted criticism as racism, extremism and anti-social behavior surfaced across them. The company set up the independent Oversight Board to moderate such content.

However, Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas questioned whether the board can truly make a significant difference.

“As much as I am in favor of having an oversight board at Facebook, at Twitter or at Snap or TikTok…how much say do they really have?” he asked. “How much can they really do?”

Snap Inc’s MENA GM Hussein Freijeh claimed that social-media technology itself was neither good nor bad — it depends on the user.

“Snapchat works with regional cultural dynamics in terms of security and content. Snapchat is considered a useful tool for content creators,” Freijeh said.

While fake news was in no way created by social media, the sheer speed and accessibility the networks provide means that harmful and malicious behavior now has a greater reach than ever before.

“Social media gave people freedom,” Khaled Janahi, the Chairman of Vision 3, told the panel but warned that people needed to use it correctly.

Abbas said: “Nobody is against freedom but we should also be against chaos.”

He explained: “We are talking about billions of people, billions of posts, it is physically impossible to monitor everything and by the time they get to it, the damage would most probably have been done.

“If you remember from 2016 the fake story which was spreading on Facebook and other platforms about the pizzeria that had a child abuse ring, and somebody took a gun and went and shot up the place,” the editor continued, referring to PizzaGate — a conspiracy theory that received widespread attention on social media and led to severe consequences, including the ‘creation’ of a fake newspaper, the Denver Guardian, which claimed to have hacked into former secretary of state and presidential runner-up Hillary Clinton’s emails and discovered a Democrat-run child prostitution ring.

“The story got more views than the rebuttals. The more crazy the news, the more content it creates, the more websites like Facebook get traction,” Abbas said. “There is no end to fake news but we must continue to battle it.”


Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
Updated 17 May 2022

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister

Russia not planning to block YouTube, says digital development minister
  • Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms
  • Moscow restricted access to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in early March

Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.
Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.
With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.
“We are not planning to close YouTube,” Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”
Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.
Alphabet’s Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform’s Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.


Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts
Updated 17 May 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Elon Musk says Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts
  • ‘Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent. This deal cannot move forward until he does’

NEW YORK: Billionaire Elon Musk said Tuesday that his purchase of Twitter would not go ahead unless he was assured that fewer than five percent of accounts on the platform were fake.
“Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 percent,” tweeted Musk, who has almost 94 million followers on the social network.
“This deal cannot move forward until he does.”


Twitter defends anti-bot efforts, Musk replies with poo emoji

Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
Updated 17 May 2022

Twitter defends anti-bot efforts, Musk replies with poo emoji

Musk has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform. (File/Twitter)
  • “The bot issue at the end of the day was known by the New York City cab driver and feels more to us like the ‘dog ate the homework’ excuse to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price”

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter’s chief on Monday defended the messaging platform’s battle against “bots” that aspiring buyer Elon Musk says vex the platform, only to have the billionaire respond with a poo emoji.
The exchange played out in tweets as Musk’s $44 billion buy of Twitter remained “temporarily on hold,” pending questions over the social media company’s estimates of the number of fake accounts, or “bots.”
“It appears the spam/bot issue is cascading and clearly making the Twitter deal a confusing one,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.
“The bot issue at the end of the day was known by the New York City cab driver and feels more to us like the ‘dog ate the homework’ excuse to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price.”
Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal said the platform suspends more than a half-million seemingly bogus accounts daily, usually before they are even seen, and locks millions more weekly that fail checks to make sure they are controlled by humans and not by software.
Internal measures show that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are spam, but that analysis can’t be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private, Agrawal contended.
Musk, who has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform, responded to that tweet by Agrawal with a poo emoji.
“So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money?” Musk tweeted in a subsequent response about the need to prove Twitter users are real people.
“This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.”
The process used to estimate how many accounts are bots has been shared with Musk, Agrawal said.
The chief of SpaceX as well as Tesla, Musk is currently listed by Forbes as the world’s wealthiest person, with a fortune of some $230 billion, much of it in Tesla stock.
Seen by his champions as an iconoclastic genius and by his critics as an erratic megalomaniac, Musk surprised many investors in April with his pursuit of Twitter.
Musk has described his motivation as stemming from a desire to ensure freedom of speech on the platform and to boost monetization of an Internet site that is influential in media and political circles but has struggled to attain profitable growth.
Musk said he favored lifting the ban on Donald Trump, who was kicked off the platform in January 2021 shortly after the former US president’s efforts to overturn his election defeat led to the January 6 assault on the US Capitol.