You Can Now Tell Facebook to Delete Its Internal Record of Your Face

An updated feature allows Facebook users to opt out of facial recognition on the social network

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
3 min readSep 4, 2019

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A man with a smartphone stands in front of a monitor with the Facebook logo.
Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty

Facebook users can now tell the company not to run facial recognition on their pictures.

The company announced Tuesday that it has updated and rebranded its setting for opting out of certain face recognition features that have raised privacy concerns. If you disable face recognition, Facebook won’t automatically suggest tags in images, nor will it automatically suggest tags of your friends. Opting out will also stop Facebook from searching for you in other images on the site using its Photo Review feature — which is designed to notify you when someone uploads a picture of you that you aren’t tagged in, perhaps so that you can flag impersonation or other problems.

The update will also have a significant impact on the underlying technology that allows Facebook to recognize you in the first place, the company told OneZero. Facebook processes images to extract what your face looks like into a hidden string of numbers called a template, according to the company’s website. Fundamentally, facial recognition is just comparing how statistically similar your string of numbers is to other strings of numbers extracted from other images, using criteria like the distance and orientation of facial features learned by an algorithm.

When you opt out of facial recognition on Facebook, the company will delete your template, meaning it will have no original reference point for your face and therefore cannot find your face at all. It’s an assurance that Facebook isn’t actually retaining data that it could use again someday to recognize your face. Of course, Facebook could compute that template again if you opt back in. And your friends can still manually tag you in an image, though doing so won’t lead Facebook to compute a new template for your face.

“When people turn off their face recognition setting, we can no longer create a face template for them for any purpose.”

Opting out also prohibits you from being included in Facebook’s facial recognition research…

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.