Instagram and Facebook to train AI on your photos and posts

Social media giant Meta has raised concerns about user privacy with its new data collection policy.

Ahead of the launch of its new artificial intelligence (AI) tools in Britain, the company is informing Facebook and Instagram users that it will soon start using their information (including photos and messages) to train its AI systems.

However, it’s not just social media users who are affected. In a move that’s sure to cause concern, Meta informs people that it may process their data even if they don’t use its services.

Outraged users have taken to social media to criticize the new rules and warn others to increase their safety. But is there a way to opt out of the controversial policy or are you at Meta’s whim?

With the divisive changes set to roll out in just weeks, here’s what you can do to stop Meta’s AI from gobbling up your Instagram and Facebook data.

What is changing?

Meta's conversational AI chatbots include robots, aliens and celebrities (Meta)

Meta’s conversational AI chatbots include robots, aliens and celebrities (Meta)

In a recent email to users, Meta said it’s “getting ready to expand its AI” to more regions, including the new and improved virtual assistant and the other features it announced last year.

As part of the launch, it will start using your data for a new purpose beyond targeted advertising; namely to train and improve its artificial intelligence systems. These include the major ChatGPT-style language models it has released over the years, the most recent of which was Llama 3.

Pretty much everything you share on Facebook and Instagram is up for grabs, from your posts and photos (along with their captions) to the messages you send to the AI ​​chatbots once they go live.

However, Meta promises “not to use the content of your private messages with friends and family” to power its AI.

When do the new rules apply?

Meta says its updated privacy policy, which reflects the new changes, will go into effect on June 26, according to the email to users.

Meta's entire cast of AI chatbots personified by celebrities (Meta)Meta's entire cast of AI chatbots personified by celebrities (Meta)

Meta’s entire cast of AI chatbots personified by celebrities (Meta)

Can Meta do this?

To enforce the new rules, Meta says it will rely on a legal basis called “legitimate interests,” which essentially gives companies a lawful way to process user data without the need for explicit consent under the GDPR. That, by the way, is the EU and UK law enforced in 2018, which is designed to strengthen online privacy and give individuals more control over their personal information.

Can you unsubscribe?

While it’s not as simple as unchecking a box in your settings, there are ways you can try to prevent your data from being sucked up by Facebook’s AI.

As required by the GDPR, Meta allows users to object to their information being used in this way. To do this, you can fill out a short form on Instagram’s website that will ask for the reasons why you want to unsubscribe, along with some personal information, such as the country you live in and your email address.

Meta began testing more generative AI features for its social networks late last year, including search, advertising, and business messaging tools (Meta)Meta began testing more generative AI features for its social networks late last year, including search, advertising, and business messaging tools (Meta)

Meta began testing more generative AI features for its social networks late last year, including search, advertising, and business messaging tools (Meta)

Meta says it will “assess objection requests in accordance with relevant data protection legislation” and honor successful appeals “in the future”.

But here’s the catch: despite your protests, Meta may still use your data to train its AI in some cases, whether you use the platforms or not. This will affect you if you appear or are mentioned in posts, photos and captions shared by Instagram and Facebook users.

What to say if you unsubscribe

Targeted advertising is sinister enough to make you feel like you’re being spied on, but how do you deal with a supposedly benign AI model? Well, it can help to better understand how and when a company can use legitimate interests before submitting your objection request.

What is legitimate interest?

Broadly speaking, a company must have a clear reason to process your data based on the legal grounds of legitimate interest, whether it is to prevent fraud or improve its services. At the same time, companies must demonstrate that processing data is necessary without an individual’s consent. Crucially, they must also weigh their reasons against the individual privacy rights of their users. If the privacy risk is high, they cannot rely on a legitimate interest.

All this should be done with transparency in mind, and users should be given the right to object to the processing of their data.

Possible objections

Therefore, in this particular case, a Facebook or Instagram user might raise concerns about the lack of control over how their data is used in AI training. They might mention the possibility of unforeseen consequences or misuse of data in future applications. After all, AI tools have been known to spread disinformation and even hatred in the past.

You could also argue that Meta’s AI development process lacks transparency. Ask yourself: Has the company made it clear exactly how your data is used or what kind of AI models it contributes to?

It may even be worth suggesting that Meta explore other methods of data collection, such as anonymized data or synthetic datasets for AI training, rather than relying on personal information.

After all, other companies like Google and Microsoft prioritize publicly available data for AI training over personal information. They also typically require explicit consent from users before including their data in training processes.

What if your objection is rejected?

If you are not satisfied with Meta’s response to your objection, you can complain to the ICO. They may investigate Meta’s practices and may impose fines or enforcement actions.

Although this is less common, you can take legal action against Meta if you believe that using your data for AI training violates your privacy rights under the GDPR. This route is usually for more severe cases and can be expensive. Therefore, it is recommended that you consult an attorney who specializes in data privacy.

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