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Facebook to End Facial Recognition System, Delete Facial Data of 1 Billion People

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Experts said the surprising reversal from a pioneer of facial recognition software represents one of the largest shifts in the history of the technology’s use.


Facebook Shuts Down Facial Recognition Program

Facebook announced Tuesday that it will end its use of facial recognition technology and delete the facial data of more than 1 billion people.

The software, which was first introduced in 2010, automatically identified people who appeared in another user’s photos so they could be tagged. The feature was the default for all users until 2019 when the company began asking people to opt-in amid legal challenges.

In a blog post announcing the move, Jerome Pesenti, the vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook’s newly-launched parent company Meta, argued that concerns over the technology outweigh the benefits of its use.

“There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” he said. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

More than a third of the platform’s active daily users had facial recognition turned on for their accounts, Pesenti said.

Broader Implications

Facebook’s sudden reversal is highly significant because the company has one of the biggest facial-recognition systems on the Internet and one of the largest collections of digital photos in the world.

Additionally, as Pesenti noted in his blog post, the move “will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history.”

Many experts have said that Facebook has done more to normalize facial recognition technology than anyone else. In the decade-plus since the platform rolled out the software, its use has been broadly utilized by governments, schools, police, companies, and many others.

However, in recent years, the largely unregulated technology has become increasingly controversial, prompting concerns over privacy, the potential for misuse, racial bias, and more. As a result, a growing number of governments and private companies have taken steps to rein in the technology.

According to reports, at least seven U.S. states and nearly two dozen cities have limited the use of the software by governments.

Last year, other major tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM said they would either end or pause the sale of facial recognition tech to police. 

Some privacy experts say Facebook’s decision here could fuel further skepticism regarding the software, but others argue that its long promotion of the technology has left an impact that cannot be erased.

It also remains unclear exactly how far Facebook’s latest effort will go. In addition to the broad effect the platform has had on the software at large, images of faces found on social networks like Facebook can be used by other companies to train facial-recognition software.

While the site will delete facial scans, it is not going to eliminate the advanced algorithm that powers the technology.

Beyond that, Pesenti explicitly said that the company will continue to explore “potential future applications of technologies like this.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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New Federal Rules Allow Debt Collectors To DM People on Social Media

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Among several limitations, collectors cannot message people publicly, must state upfront that they’re pursuing a debt, and must give people an opportunity to opt-out of receiving additional messages through social media.


Debt Collectors Can Now DM

If you’ve suddenly found yourself flooded with more DMs in the last day, it might not be because you’ve become more popular. Instead, it could be because a new federal rule that went into effect Tuesday now allows debt collectors to message people by email, text, and even through direct messages on social media.

Debt collectors will still be subject to several notable limitations.

For example, if they reach out to someone on social media, it has to be through a private message. It can’t be in a public comments section or anything viewable to anyone except the recipient.

Additionally, if they attempt to reach out by adding a recipient as a friend or contact, they must be clear from the start that they’re pursuing a debt. 

Finally, collectors must allow recipients to opt-out of receiving further messages from them on the social media platform they reach out on. 

Collectors Praise the Rule, Others Express Concern

The new rule, which was greenlit by former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger, has largely been met with praise throughout the collection industry. Kraninger, a Trump-appointee who vacated her office during President Joe Biden’s transition, has argued that the rule is intended to “modernize the legal regime for debt collection.”

Essentially, she and debt collectors have contended that texts, email, and social media are now the preferred methods of communication for many people in America.

Many others, particularly those outside the collection industry, are less happy with the new rule. 

“If left unchecked, this expanded access to consumers could very well contribute to new ways to harass struggling consumers,” Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post said.

“I’ve followed this issue for years, and while many companies operate within the law, illegal operations can do a lot of damage to innocent consumers,” she added. “Debt collection isn’t wicked. But it can lead to embarrassing, unethical and illegal tactics.”

For example, Singletary noted that some companies try to collect debts even after they’re no longer legally collectible. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (CBS News)

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Workers in Alabama Will Rehold Vote to Unionize After Amazon Interfered With First Election, Agency Finds

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Among other actions, federal officials found that Amazon improperly placed an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in front of its warehouse.


Workers Will Redo Union Vote

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will revote on whether or not to unionize thanks to a ruling issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The workers previously agreed not to unionize by a vote of 1,798 to 738 in April. Had they voted yes, the group would have set a precedent by becoming the first Amazon employees in the country to be represented by a union.

Following the initial vote, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which led the charge for employees to organize — filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, an independent federal agency. There, it alleged that Amazon at times broke the law while campaigning against the effort. 

In its Monday decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon, “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

She additionally noted that Amazon “improperly polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of” managers.

Amazon Challenges NLRB Ruling

Amazon is expected to appeal Henderson’s decision. 

“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. ​​As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said according to NPR. 

In a statement, Nantel also cited the fact that the results of the first vote were overwhelming. 

Convincing employees to flip the results will likely be an uphill battle. To do so, those in favor of unionizing will need to convince hundreds to vote differently or convince thousands of workers who sat out the last round to now vote. 

Still, this is a second breath of life for pro-unionists. While some believe the outcome could change given high employee turnover rates at Amazon, many others expect it to hold firm as a “no” vote. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (WVTM) (The Washington Post)

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CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds

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While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.


Jury Sides Against Retailers

A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.

Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling. 

Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis. 

Retailers Vow to Appeal

Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad. 

That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases. 

Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring. 

While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)

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