woman phone facebook logo
© Niall Carson / PA Wire
A woman using her phone under a Facebook logo.
Facebook will shut down its facial recognition system after it was the subject of huge numbers of privacy complaints.

The site will no longer automatically recognise people when they are in photos and videos. That tool was marketed as helping tag people in photos that were uploaded, but also allowed Facebook to build a vast library of facial recognition data on the people who use it.

Facebook also said that it would delete that data, in a move that will see it destroy more than a billion people's individual facial recognition templates.

It said that the decision had been taken as part of a "company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products".

Removing it will "represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology's history", Facebook said. More than a third of its users had opted into the system that allowed them to be recognised in other people's photos.

Facebook said that it had made the decision because of "growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole". It noted that the debate about the use of facial recognition technology is ongoing, though did not specifically relate that to its many privacy scandals and controversies.

It did note that it still considers facial recognition technology useful in some instances, such as allowing people to access locked accounts and identifying people for blind or visually-impaired users.

Until now, the technology has been used to automatically generate image descriptions that allow people using its accessibility features to be told who is in a photo, for instance. That will be turned off, along with all the other features powered by the technology.

It said that it will continue to work on facial recognition technology within the company, but committed to engage with outside experts on the ethics of using it and to plan how best to do so.

The changes will mean that the various bits of facial recognition technology used across the Facebook products will be removed "over the coming weeks", Facebook said.