Facebook’s recent server issues have allowed users to look at their photos the way the company’s artificial intelligence systems do.
As a result of massive outages and loading problems, Facebook’s desktop and mobile app stopped showing photos in people’s profiles.
Instead, for some people, other users' feeds appeared to be blank or displayed an 'Image may contain' message in the empty boxes that normally contain images and videos.
This line was followed by a description of what the AI thinks is in the image. A seaside photo, for instance, would now show a somewhat poetic text reading ‘Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, outdoor, nature and water’.
This is an example of something the company calls automatic alternative text, an object recognition technology that Facebook has been developing since 2016.
The alt-text technology was put in place to help people with sight impairments, who can use a screen reader to hear what’s in the photo.
Users are able to edit the caption, which is normally only available to those using screen readers.
But Wednesday’s glitch raised suspicions among some people that Facebook might have been tagging their photos with keywords to help advertisers find their target audience.
ive long been suspicious that I get served @instagram ads for hair implants cus the robots are reading my hairline in my pictures. this explains the beard trimmer ads, but curious if anyone else is seeing `image may contain: balding man` ? 👴🏻🤳🏻 #instagramdown pic.twitter.com/vXDlsujdo6— Craig Phillips (@ycphillips) 3 июля 2019 г.
Today's Facebook/Instagram image outage inadvertently provides a look into how FB automatically parses our personal images and stores additional information about what's in them. I'm guessing it's all then anonymized and passed on to advertisers to help with targeting? pic.twitter.com/mf5schNPCv— Anna Tulchinskaya (@chka) 3 июля 2019 г.
One person said it all looked more like apocalyptic poetry…
Instagram is now strangely-poignant poetry instead of photos, as if humanity has died out but computers are still going:— Darran Anderson (@Oniropolis) 3 июля 2019 г.
"Image may contain: skyscraper, sky, night & outdoor."
"Image may contain: text."
"image may contain: one or more people, eyeglasses, indoor & closeup."
...while another said the AI has discovered the “quintessence of meme”.
That's it folks. We've finally distilled the quintessence of mémé. Job done.— Chris I Brown (@Lazarus_Audio) 3 июля 2019 г.
Zuck don't bother fixing images on your web site, we don't need them anymore pic.twitter.com/8NoMmYIzc7
For some reason, Facebook is not properly loading all images for me right now, but I'm instead learning about what kind of information the site processes about those photos: pic.twitter.com/yBd5aXPckg— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) 3 июля 2019 г.
Part of me, though, just wants to see how Facebook would describe a screenshot of how it describes photos. pic.twitter.com/Yy0rjMXdvH— Megan GriffithGreene (@griffithgreene) 3 июля 2019 г.
The servers’ partial breakdown appeared to have targeted users across the globe, while the outages have apparently concentrated in Europe and the US.
A spokesperson for Facebook, who was also speaking on behalf of Instagram and WhatsApp, said the connectivity issues arouse accidentally during a "routine maintenance" operation.
As of the time of writing, all of the platforms are back up and running, while the previously unavailable images are visible again.
Earlier today, some people and businesses experienced trouble uploading or sending images, videos and other files on our apps and platforms. The issue has since been resolved and we should be back at 100% for everyone. We're sorry for any inconvenience.— Facebook (@facebook) 4 июля 2019 г.