Facebook (FB  ) announced that the company was shutting down its facial recognition software that can automatically recognize people posted in photos and videos. It's certainly a change in attitude from Facebook which has been pretty aggressive in pushing back against any criticism regarding its privacy policies by mentioning the company's primary goal to increase "connection" among users.

The company is also planning to delete the data that it had gathered through the use of the software which essentially had scanned more than a billion people's faces. Some are attributing the move to recent controversy over the ill effects that Facebook's products are having on mental health. According to Facebook's VP of AI, Jerome Pesenti, the move is a "part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products."

The company did clarify that it will still work with facial recognition technology and could be used in some products but mainly as a tool to verify identity or prevent fraud. Facial recognition technology is being increasingly used by countries, law enforcement, and companies, however, there remains considerable fear that it could be used inappropriately especially with the current lack of regulation.

Many privacy advocates are saying Facebook's decision is a win for users and privacy. However, it's still such a sharp turnaround from Facebook that many suspect the company is looking to distract from bigger issues such as its declining growth rate, ad efficacy decreasing, viral and fake news, and concerns about its products' impact on mental health.

For many years, facial recognition technology was part of Facebook's growth engine as it would automatically tag them in pictures and videos. This increased engagement and time spent on the platform as people would look at pictures their friends were tagged in. About a third of Facebook's users, about 643 million people, had opted into facial recognition.

A more reasonable explanation is that facial recognition was an area that was no longer serving Facebook in terms of increasing growth or usage. There was also tremendous liability in terms of that data being stolen or used in an illegal manner. Additionally, the company is already moving into the metaverse as social media is no longer its main focus. Therefore, facial recognition will have much less value in the new arena.