Facebook made an app that could facially recognize anyone it was pointed at

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook has come under frequent scrutiny recently over privacy and ethical issues. Photo: Abundary

Facial recognition

Sources within Facebook stated that people working within the company could point mobile devices at other employees, and the app would recognize that person’s name and profile picture, providing it was fed a sufficient amount of data. The app was developed circa 2015-16, before the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged.

The sources close to Facebook note that the app has now been discontinued, but its very existence will only heighten scrutiny of a company that has continually transgressed in terms of conduct in recent years.

A spokesperson for Facebook told CNET that the app in question was never intended for commercial use, and was “only available to Facebook employees, and could only recognize employees and their friends who had face recognition enabled.” But this is unlikely to quell the controversy.

Facebook app
Biometric scanning technology, such as facial recognition, is becoming increasingly prominent, and this raises privacy concerns. Photo: Delta News Hub via Flickr.

The spokesperson also suggested that Facebook teams build apps of this nature in order to learn about new technologies, implying that there was no intention to implement the software in any real world setting.

Federal investigation

While the app in question may now be defunct, it also provides a fascinating insight into the extent that Facebook had engineered facial recognition; a technology that it still has as its disposal. Indeed, facial recognition was incorporated into its platform in 2017, before later becoming the subject of a federal investigation in the United States.

Facebook has faced a barrage of criticism recently, not least for the aforementioned Cambridge Analytica scandal, which continues to create controversy ahead of forthcoming elections in the UK and United States. While Twitter and Google have both taken steps to ensure fairness when it comes to political advertising, Facebook has been reluctant to rein in this aspect of its operation.

But the heat that Facebook has taken with regard to this issue means that it will be reluctant to risk any further criticism over facial recognition technology. While the social media behemoth currently enjoys a dominant market position in the niche, there are plenty of competitors ready to take over should Facebook suffer with bad PR.

Facebook privacy
Facebook has already faced federal scrutiny over its facial recognition operation. Photo: PXHere.

$5 billion fine

Facebook received a $5 billion fine previously with regard to facial privacy issues, and has since adopted new regulations, with the intention of increasing transparency on its platforms. Meanwhile, the social network continues to deal with fallout from a class action lawsuit which claims that it violated llinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Facebook made more than $40 billion in revenue in 2017, approximately 89% of which came from digital advertisements. The social media giant is also the only social media platform in the world which is able to attract 2 billion hits on a monthly basis.

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