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Facebook will shut down facial recognition system

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November 2, 2021

By Sheila Dang and Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) -Facebook Inc announced on Tuesday it is shutting down its facial recognition system, which automatically identifies users in photos and videos, citing growing societal concerns about the use of such technology.

“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, wrote in a blog post. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

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The removal of face recognition by the world’s largest social media platform comes as the tech industry has faced a reckoning over the past few years over the ethics of using the technology.

Critics say facial recognition technology https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/exclusive-why-us-hospital-oil-company-turned-facial-recognition-2021-04-20 – which is popular among retailers, hospitals and other businesses for security purposes – could compromise privacy, target marginalized groups and normalize intrusive surveillance. IBM has permanently ended facial recognition product sales, and Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc have suspended sales to police indefinitely.

The news also comes as Facebook has been under intense scrutiny https://www.reuters.com/technology/changing-facebooks-name-will-not-deter-lawmaker-or-regulatory-scrutiny-experts-2021-10-20 from regulators and lawmakers over user safety and a wide range of abuses on its platforms.

The company, which last week renamed itself https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebooks-zuckerberg-kicks-off-its-virtual-reality-event-with-metaverse-vision-2021-10-28 Meta Platforms Inc, said more than one-third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted into the face recognition setting on the social media site, and the change will now delete the “facial recognition templates” of more than 1 billion people.

The removal will roll out globally and is expected to be complete by December, a Facebook spokesperson said.

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Privacy advocacy and digital rights groups welcomed the move.

Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “For far too long Internet users have suffered personal data abuses at the whims of Facebook and other platforms. EPIC first called for an end to this program in 2011,” though he said comprehensive data protection regulations were still needed in the United States.

Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that although Facebook’s action comes after moves from other tech companies, it could mark a “notable moment in the national turning-away from face recognition.”

Facebook added that its automatic alt text tool, which creates image descriptions for visually impaired people, will no longer include the names of people recognized in photos after the removal of face recognition, but will otherwise function normally.

Facebook did not rule out using facial recognition technology in other products, saying it still sees it as a “powerful tool” for identity verification for example.

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The company’s facial recognition software has long been the subject of scrutiny. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission included it among the concerns when it fined Facebook $5 billion to settle privacy complaints in 2019.

A judge this year approved Facebook’s $650 million settlement of a class action in Illinois over allegations it collected and stored biometric data of users without proper consent.

(Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas and Elizabeth Culliford in New York; additional reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Jonathan Oatis and Mark Porter)

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Bukele steps up El Salvador’s bet on sliding bitcoin; buys another 150 coins

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December 5, 2021

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said the Central American country had acquired an additional 150 bitcoins after the digital currency’s value slumped again, enlarging his bet on the cryptocurrency despite criticism.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down about 30% from the year’s high of $69,000 on Nov. 10. Bukele said last week that El Salvador had acquired 100 additional coins to take advantage of the currency weakening.

Late on Friday, Bukele announced the government had stepped into the market again.

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“El Salvador just bought the dip! 150 coins at an average USD price of ~$48,670,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Until Nov. 26, El Salvador had 1,220 bitcoins.

In September El Salvador became the world’s first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, a move that generated global media attention but also attracted criticism from the opposition and foreign financial institutions.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday that El Salvador should not use bitcoin as legal tender, considering risks related to the cryptocurrency.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Bitcoin falls 9.2% to $48,782

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December 4, 2021

(Reuters) – Bitcoin dropped 9.29% to $48,752.15 at 22:01 GMT on Saturday, losing $4,991.54 from its previous close.

Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, is down 29.3% from the year’s high of $69,000 on November 10.

Ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, dropped 3.61% to $4,070.52 on Saturday, losing $152.28 from its previous close.

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(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Trump’s social media venture says it has raised $1 billion

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December 4, 2021

By Krystal Hu and Juby Babu

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s new social media venture said on Saturday it had entered into agreements to raise about $1 billion from a group of unidentified investors as it prepares to float in the U.S. stock market.

The capital raise, details of which were first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, underscored the former U.S. president’s ability to attract strong financial backing thanks to his personal and political brand. He is working to launch a social media app called TRUTH Social that is at least several weeks away.

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Digital World Acquisition Corp, the blank-check acquisition firm that will take Trump Media & Technology Group Corp public by listing it in New York, said it will provide up to $293 million to the partnership with Trump’s media venture, taking the total proceeds to about $1.25 billion.

The $1 billion will be raised through a private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction from “a diverse group of institutional investors,” Trump Media and Digital World said in a statement. They did not respond to requests to name the investors.

Trump Media inked its deal with Digital World to go public in October at a valuation of $875 million, including debt. The social media venture is now valued at almost $4 billion based on the price of Digital World shares at the end of trading on Friday. Trump supporters and day traders snapped up the stock.

Many Wall Street firms such as mutual funds and private equity firms snubbed the opportunity to invest in the PIPE. Among those investors who participated were hedge funds, family offices and high net-worth individuals, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Family offices manage the wealth of the very rich and their kin.

Some Wall Street investors are reluctant to associate with Trump. He was banned from top social media platforms after the Jan. 6 attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol amid concerns he would inspire further violence. The Capitol attack was based on unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in last year’s presidential election.

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“As our balance sheet expands, Trump Media & Technology Group will be in a stronger position to fight back against the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump said in a statement on Saturday.

The deal also faces regulatory risk. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren asked Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler last month to investigsate the planned merger for potential violations of securities laws around disclosure. The SEC has declined to comment on whether it plans any action.

Trump Media and Digital World said the per-share conversion price of the convertible preferred stock PIPE transaction represents a 20% discount to Digital World’s volume-weighted average closing price for the five trading days to Dec. 1, when Reuters broke news of the capital raise.

If that price averages below $56 in the 10 days after the merger with Digital World has been completed, the discount will grow to 40% with a floor of $10, the companies added. Digital World shares ended trading on Friday $44.97.

Trump had 89 million followers on Twitter, 33 million on Facebook and 24.5 million on Instagram at the time he was blocked, according to a presentation on his company’s website.

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Investors attending the confidential investor road shows were shown a demo from the planned social media app, which looked like a Twitter feed, Reuters reported.

FIRST-QUARTER ROLLOUT

Since Trump was voted out of office last year, he has repeatedly dropped hints that he might seek the presidency in 2024.

Special purpose acquisition companies such as Digital World had lost much of their luster with retail investors before the Trump media deal came along. Many of these investors were left with big losses after the companies that merged with SPACs failed to deliver on their ambitious financial projections.

TRUTH Social is scheduled for a full rollout in the first quarter of 2022. It is the first of three stages in the Trump Media plan, followed by a subscription video-on-demand service called TMTG+ that will feature entertainment, news and podcasts, according to the news release.

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In a slide deck on its website, the company envisions eventually competing against Amazon.com’s AWS cloud service and Google Cloud.

(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru and Krystal Hu in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

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