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IRS backs down from using facial recognition to verify online users after facing massive criticism

The federal tax agency abandoned ship after concerns of bias and privacy risks were raised regarding facial recognition.

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will stop availing third-party service for facial recognition that was being used to authenticate people who create new accounts on its online platform. In a press release on February 7, the IRS said that during the transition, it will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition.

“Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said.

While western countries like the US might be shying away from the usage of facial recognition, in India, there has been a rise of such technology being deployed, both in the private and public sectors.

This move comes after IRS faced massive criticism

The agency had originally said that all taxpayers would need to submit a “video selfie” to authenticate themselves and access their tax records and other services on the IRS website, according to a Washington Post report.

However, the report said that the decision evoked criticism from lawmakers and advocates saying that it would be unfair towards those who do not have access to smartphones or computer cameras, towards people of colour, and it would also be vulnerable to hackers.

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Senator Ron Wyden called on the IRS to “end its plan to require facial recognition for online accounts.” He said that it was “simply unacceptable to force Americans to submit to scans using facial recognition technology as a condition of interacting with the government online”.

Facebook recently disabled its facial recognition feature

In November 2021, days after Facebook changed its company name to Meta in a bid to be known for more than social media and its ills, the company announced that it was shutting down its facial recognition programme.

“We need to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules,” said Jerome Pesenti, VP of Artificial Intelligence at Meta.

What did it impact?

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  • From now on, people (almost 1/3rd of Facebook users) who opted in for Facebook’s facial recognition system will no longer be automatically recognised in photos and videos.
  • The social media platform intends to delete more than a “billion people’s individual facial recognition template”, Pesenti said. “If you have the face recognition setting turned off, there is no template to delete and there will be no change,” he added.
  • This change will also have an impact on Automatic Alt Text (AAT), which is a tool that creates image descriptions for blind and visually-impaired people. “After this change, descriptions will no longer include the names of people recognised in photos but will function normally otherwise,” Pesenti said.
  • People will no longer be able to turn on face recognition for suggested tagging or see a suggested tag with their name in photos and videos they may appear in, Pesenti said.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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