Oh great – now Facebook and Instagram want your private data to train Meta's latest AI pipe dream

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg
(Image credit: Wikimedia commons)

Facebook owner Meta is not exactly known for keeping its hands off your private data, and over the years company chief Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly found himself in hot water for his, shall we say, 'light-fingered' approach to user privacy. And now it looks like things could get a whole lot worse.

In a recent earnings call (via Bloomberg), Zuckerberg announced his company’s latest bright idea: grab the confidential data of billions of people and use it to train a new artificial intelligence (AI) model. Don’t expect to be able to opt out of this either.

On the call, Zuckerberg grandly announced that “The next key part of our playbook is learning from unique data and feedback loops in our products… On Facebook and Instagram, there are hundreds of billions of publicly shared images and tens of billions of public videos, which we estimate is greater than the Common Crawl dataset, and people share large numbers of public text posts in comments across our services as well.”

Zuckerberg’s idea seems to be that if you've posted something to Facebook or Instagram, it’s fair game for his AI to seize and use however it pleases. Those adorable baby photos you posted for your friends and family? Sorry, they’re Meta’s now.

I’m sure this can only end well

Social app icons on a phone screen

(Image credit: dole777 / Unsplash)

The stunning brazenness of Zuckerberg’s announcement shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as the Meta CEO has repeatedly demonstrated a worrying disregard for privacy concerns over the years. But it aptly demonstrates the consequences of a company as massive as Meta taking control of your private posts, photos and videos. Nobody posted these things ever intending them to be swept up and used in this way.

The creator of rival artificial intelligence tool Stability AI has faced legal action after Getty Images claimed it had grabbed a veritable treasure trove of online content and used it to train its AI model, and that’s far from the only case of its kind. In each instance, the training was done without permission from the original posters of the material, and Meta could face similar headaches if it goes ahead with its AI plan.

There’s also the concern of bias and discrimination that inevitably rears its ugly head whenever large amounts of data are used to train AI models. All major efforts so far have faced this problem, and with Meta gobbling up far more training data than was used on ChatGPT, the problem could be compounded.

No doubt lawmakers are taking notice of Meta’s intentions, and with bodies like the European Union taking the privacy fight to big tech firms in recent years, Zuckerberg’s plan is likely to land squarely within its crosshairs. Whether that’s enough to keep your private data out of Facebook's and Instagram’s clutches remains to be seen.

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Alex Blake
Freelance Contributor

Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.