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Facebook to shut down face-recognition system, delete data

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Facebook said it will shut down its face-recognition system and delete the faceprints of more than 1 billion people amid growing concerns about the technology and its misuse by governments, police and others.

“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence for Facebook’s new parent company, Meta, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

He said the company was trying to weigh the positive use cases for the technology “against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.” The company in the coming weeks will delete “more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates,” he said.

Facebook’s about-face follows a busy few weeks. On Thursday it announced its new name Meta for Facebook the company, but not the social network. The change, it said, will help it focus on building technology for what it envisions as the next iteration of the internet — the “metaverse.”

The company is also facing perhaps its biggest public relations crisis to date after leaked documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that it has known about the harms its products cause and often did little or nothing to mitigate them.

More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to have their faces recognized by the social network’s system. That’s about 640 million people. Facebook introduced facial recognition more than a decade ago but gradually made it easier to opt out of the feature as it faced scrutiny from courts and regulators.

Facebook in 2019 stopped automatically recognizing people in photos and suggesting people “tag” them, and instead of making that the default, asked users to choose if they wanted to use its facial recognition feature.

Facebook’s decision to shut down its system “is a good example of trying to make product decisions that are good for the user and the company,” said Kristen Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. She added that the move also demonstrates the power of public and regulatory pressure, since the face recognition system has been the subject of harsh criticism for over a decade.

Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company, appears to be looking at new forms of identifying people. Pesenti said Tuesday’s announcement involves a “company-wide move away from this kind of broad identification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.”

“Facial recognition can be particularly valuable when the technology operates privately on a person’s own devices,” he wrote. “This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in the systems used to unlock smartphones.”

Apple uses this kind of technology to power its Face ID system for unlocking iPhones.

Researchers and privacy activists have spent years raising questions about the tech industry’s use of face-scanning software, citing studies that found it worked unevenly across boundaries of race, gender or age. One concern has been that the technology can incorrectly identify people with darker skin.

Another problem with face recognition is that in order to use it, companies have had to create unique faceprints of huge numbers of people – often without their consent and in ways that can be used to fuel systems that track people, said Nathan Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought Facebook and other companies over their use of the technology.

“This is a tremendously significant recognition that this technology is inherently dangerous,” he said.

Facebook found itself on the other end of the debate last year when it demanded that facial recognition startup ClearviewAI, which works with police, stop harvesting Facebook and Instagram user images to identify the people in them.

Concerns also have grown because of increasing awareness of the Chinese government’s extensive video surveillance system, especially as it’s been employed in a region home to one of China’s largely Muslim ethnic minority populations.

Facebook’s huge repository of images shared by users helped make it a powerhouse for improvements in computer vision, a branch of artificial intelligence. Now many of those research teams have been refocused on Meta’s ambitions for augmented reality technology, in which the company envisions future users strapping on goggles to experience a blend of virtual and physical worlds. Those technologies, in turn, could pose new concerns about how people’s biometric data is collected and tracked.

Facebook didn’t provide clear answers when asked how people could verify that their image data was deleted and what the company would be doing with its underlying face-recognition technology.

On the first point, company spokesperson Jason Grosse said in email only that user templates will be “marked for deletion” if their face-recognition settings are on, and that the deletion process should be completed and verified in “coming weeks.” On the second, point, Grosse said that Facebook will be “turning off” components of the system associated with the face-recognition settings.

Meta’s newly wary approach to facial recognition follows decisions by other U.S. tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM last year to end or pause their sales of facial recognition software to police, citing concerns about false identifications and amid a broader U.S. reckoning over policing and racial injustice.

At least seven U.S. states and nearly two dozen cities have limited government use of the technology amid fears over civil rights violations, racial bias and invasion of privacy.

President Joe Biden’s science and technology office in October launched a fact-finding mission to look at facial recognition and other biometric tools used to identify people or assess their emotional or mental states and character. European regulators and lawmakers have also taken steps toward blocking law enforcement from scanning facial features in public spaces.

Facebook’s face-scanning practices also contributed to the $5 billion fine and privacy restrictions the Federal Trade Commission imposed on the company in 2019. Facebook’s settlement with the FTC included a promise to require “clear and conspicuous” notice before people’s photos and videos were subjected to facial recognition technology.

And the company earlier this year agreed to pay $650 million to settle a 2015 lawsuit alleging it violated an Illinois privacy law when it used photo-tagging without users’ permission.

“It is a big deal, it’s a big shift but it’s also far, far too late,” said John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. EPIC filed its first complaint with the FTC against Facebook’s facial recognition service in 2011, the year after it was rolled out.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP)

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Ericsson connects NOC for DNB’s 5G network in Malaysia

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Ericsson launched a network operations center (NOC) in Malaysia devoted to Digital Nasional Bhd’s (DNB) 5G network and its key performance indicators. DNB is Malaysia’s single wholesale 5G network operator.  

The company said in a press release that “The NOC is part of Ericsson’s Managed Services offering for the DNB 5G network and entails managing the performance of the 5G network end to end. Powered by advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms, the Ericsson Operations Engine predicts potential network issues caused by hardware, software, or external factors.  

It automates nearly one million network commands every day and manages alarms to prevent network issues before they happen.   

According to the press release from the Swedish multinational networking and telecommunications company, the NOC is part of its Managed Services offering for the DNB 5G network. It entails managing the performance of the network from end to end. 

“Powered by advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms, the Ericsson Operations Engine predicts potential network issues caused by hardware, software, or external factors,” it said.  

David Hägerbro, Head of Ericsson Malaysia, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh, said: “The dedicated DNB 5G NOC is an example of our commitment to deliver a cost-efficient, world-class 5G experience for the people and businesses of Malaysia. The NOC will support the national 5G infrastructure by providing proactive, fast detection and isolation of network faults, monitor security events or threats and reduce response and rectification time.”  

He added: “Powered by the Ericsson Operations Engine, the Ericsson NOC is capable of maintaining the most complex and large-scale 5G networks round the clock and will serve as an assurance to the MNOs using the DNB 5G network regarding the performance and health of the DNB network. Setting up the NOC in Malaysia has also opened the opportunity for more Malaysians to be hired and acquire skills in the latest technologies.”  

In addition, it serves as the first point of contact for all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for technical issues, customer complaints, network performance, quality-related matters, billing, and charging-related issues.   

Ericsson proved capabilities in managing and operating multi-technology networks, with 200 global managed services contracts, including qualifications in Malaysia. Ericsson has been managing Digi’s mobile network since 2018 and has managed services for U Mobile billing operations since 2012. 

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Explainer-The U.S. export rule that hammered Huawei teed up to hit Russia

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The Biden administration is readying a U.S. export rule used against Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei that could curb Russia’s access to global electronics supplies if President Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine.

While it is unclear how the rule could impact Russia, the restrictions hobbled Huawei’s smartphone business. Last month, the company said it expected 2021 revenue to have declined nearly 30% and predicted continued challenges this year.

WHAT IS THE RESTRICTION?

The Foreign Direct Product Rule, as it is called, may be adapted to halt Russia’s ability to import smartphones, key aircraft and automobile components, Reuters reported last month.

The administration is considering restricting chips and products with integrated circuits bound for Russia, a senior official said, imposing its authority over items made abroad if they are designed with U.S. software or technology, or produced using U.S. equipment.

WHAT EXPORTS TO RUSSIA COULD BE IMPACTED?

The restrictions could apply to critical industrial sectors like artificial intelligence, maritime, defense, and civil aviation, the official said, and could also be imposed more broadly, to include consumer electronics.

The scope of the rule against Russia has not been set but White House National Security Council officials have warned executives from the Semiconductor Industry Association, a chip lobbying group, of possible unprecedented actions, as Reuters reported last week.

It is unclear whether the rule could have the kind of devastating effect on Russia that it has had on Huawei.

“A strict imposition of the Foreign Direct Product rule would significantly affect trade and output in Russia, though it’s hard to say by how much,” said Jeffrey Schott, an expert on international trade policy and economic sanctions at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

HOW DID IT IMPACT HUAWEI?

The Foreign Direct Product Rule now restricts both U.S. and non-U.S. companies from shipping items to Huawei that are the direct product of U.S. technology or software. Such shipments can only be made with a U.S. license.

The rule was added to the curbs on Huawei after the telecommunications equipment maker was placed on an export control blacklist known as the “entity list” in 2019 and it did not stop the global flow of chips to the company.

The initial listing affected U.S.-made goods and some limited items made abroad with U.S. technology but did not block overseas shipments to Huawei from companies such as Taiwan’s TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker.

So in 2020, the United States added the Foreign Direct Product Rule to expand its authority to stop shipments of foreign-produced items to Huawei. Companies like TSMC that use U.S. chipmaking equipment are required to obtain U.S. licenses before supplying Huawei and licenses for sophisticated chips are denied.

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Toshiba halts operations at chip plant after quake

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Toshiba Corp said on Monday that it had suspended operations at a plant in Oita, southern Japan that makes semiconductors used in cars and industrial machinery, after a strong earthquake hit the area at the weekend.

Some equipment had been damaged and the company was still analysing the impact on production, Toshiba said in a statement.

The plant makes system LSI chips, around 60% of which are sold to carmakers and industrial machinery makers, a spokesperson for Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage Corp said.

Toshiba does not yet know when it can restart production and will likely provide an update on Tuesday, he added.

The company also makes system LSI chips at a factory in northern Japan, with other domestic producers, such as Renesas Electronics, also building the devices.

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