Cutting Off the Face to Spite the Meta

Rebecca Heilweil, Recode:

But Meta’s announcement comes with a couple of big caveats. While Meta says that facial recognition isn’t a feature on Instagram and its Portal devices, the company’s new commitment doesn’t apply to its metaverse products, Meta spokesperson Jason Grosse told Recode. In fact, Meta is already exploring ways to incorporate biometrics into its emerging metaverse business, which aims to build a virtual, internet-based simulation where people can interact as avatars. Meta is also keeping DeepFace, the sophisticated algorithm that powers its photo-tagging facial recognition feature.

Emily Baker-White, Buzzfeed News:

The fact is: Meta intends to collect unique, identifying information about its users’ faces. Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Stratechery’s Ben Thompson that “one of the big new features” of Meta’s new Cambria headset “is around eye-tracking and face-tracking.” And while the platform has “turned off the service” that previously created facial profiles of Facebook users, the New York Times reported that the company is keeping the algorithm on which that service relied. A Meta spokesperson declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed News about how that algorithm remains in use today.

Meta may have shut down the facial recognition system on Facebook that raised so many concerns, but given that it intends to keep the algorithm that powered that system, there is no reason the company couldn’t “simply turn it on again later,” according to David Brody, senior counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Since so much of this vision is currently speculative, it may be tempting to write this off as a mongering load of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But if you are at least a little bit intrigued by the direction Meta is taking — and I am — you should be similarly concerned about the privacy risks it creates. Just as it is probably not worth rushing out to buy a complete metaverse-ready setup today, it is not worth panicking about these concerns — but they are worth keeping an eye on.