Facebook has launched its facial recognition service to all its users around the world, but the controversial technology will be turned off by default.

The social media giant is currently facing a class action lawsuit in Illinois over its use of facial recognition technology in its ‘tag suggestions’ service, which has been quietly ditched as part of the latest announcement.

In late 2017, Facebook introduced a new setting allowing select users to manage the use of facial recognition technology on the service, including whether it is used to identify the user in their friends’ photos, on their own photos and an on-off switch for the service.

In a blog post, Facebook AI applied research lead Srinivas Narayanan said all global Facebook users will now have access to the facial recognition setting, and that it will be only opt-in.

“People who still have the tag suggestions setting will begin to see a notice in their News Feed today,” Narayana said. “The notice will include information about the new features and options to learn more about how we use face recognition, along with a button to turn it on or keep it off.

“If you do not currently have the face recognition setting and do nothing, we will not use face recognition to recognise you or suggest tags.”

Facebook users will have to actively turn on the service in order to have facial recognition technology recognise them or their friends in photos on the platform.

The ‘tag suggestions’ service, which automatically suggests tagging friends in photos uploaded to the platform using facial recognition, has also been available for several years.

Last month, Facebook learned it would have to front up to a class action lawsuit claiming that the ‘tag suggestions’ service violated an Illinois privacy law due to its collection of biometric data.

The service analyses the details of a face to automatically detect if it is another Facebook user, with the company keeping a database of the biometric data it collected.

Facebook had attempted to have the case thrown out, but a panel of judges ruled that it could go ahead, saying that the “development of a face template using facial recognition technology without consent invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests”.

This service has now been shuttered by Facebook, and replaced with the larger, opt-in facial recognition setting.

In the blog post, Narayanan said that privacy and security had been placed at the forefront of the technology’s development.

“We’ve continued to engage with privacy experts, academics, regulators and people on Facebook about how we use face recognition and the options you have to control it,” he said.

“We’ve made the steps to update your settings clearer and you can opt to leave your settings off right in the notice, as opposed to having to go to a separate screen. If you do nothing, face recognition will remain off for you.

“There’s also an opportunity to review information about our technology and the features it powers so that you can make the choice that’s right for you.”