Instagram and Facebook to train AI on your photos and posts - how to opt out

Social media giant Meta has sparked privacy concerns among users with its new data collection policy.

Ahead of the launch of its new artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the UK, the company is notifying Facebook and Instagram users that it will soon begin leveraging their information (including photos and posts) to train its AI systems.

However, It’s not just social media users that will be impacted. In a move that is sure to ruffle feathers, Meta is informing people that it may wind up processing their data even if they don’t use its services.

Outraged users have taken to social media to criticise the new rules and warn others to bolster their security. But, is there a way to opt out of the controversial policy or are you beholden to Meta’s whims?

With the divisive changes set to be enforced in a matter of weeks, here’s what you can do to stop Meta’s AI from gobbling up your Instagram and Facebook data.

What’s changing?

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

In a recent email to users, Meta said it was “getting ready to expand” its AI to more regions, including its 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 ChatGPT-style large language models it has released over the years, the most recent of which was Llama 3.

Virtually 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 the AI chatbots once they go live.

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

When will the new rules apply?

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

Meta’s full cast of AI chatbots that are personified by celebrities (Meta)
Meta’s full cast of AI chatbots that are personified by celebrities (Meta)

Is Meta allowed to do this?

To enforce the new rules, Meta says it is relying on a legal basis called “legitimate interests”, which essentially gives businesses 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 that is designed to bolster online privacy and give individuals more control over their personal info.

Can you opt out?

While it isn’t as simple as unchecking a box in your settings, there are ways you can try and avoid having your data hoovered up by Facebook’s AI.

As required by the GDPR, Meta is allowing users to object to their information being used in this way. To do so, you can fill out a short form on Instagram’s website, which asks for reasons why you want to opt out, along with some personal information such as your country of residence and email.

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

Meta says it will “review objection requests in accordance with relevant data protection laws” and will honour successful appeals “going forward”.

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

What to say when opting out

Targeted advertising is sinister enough to make you feel like you’re being spied on, but how do you take issue with a supposedly benign AI model? Well, it may help to get a better grasp of how and when a company can use legitimate interest before filling out your objection request.

What is legitimate interest?

Broadly speaking, a company must have a clear reasoning for processing your data under the legal grounds of legitimate interest, be it preventing fraud or improving its services. At the same time, businesses must demonstrate that processing data is necessary without a person’s consent. Crucially, they must also balance their reasons against their users’ individual privacy rights. If the privacy risk is high, they cannot rely on legitimate interest.

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

Possible objections

Therefore, in this specific case, a Facebook or Instagram user could express their concern about the lack of control over how their data is used in AI training. They could mention the potential for unforeseen consequences or misuse of data in future applications - after all, AI tools have been known to spout misinformation and even hatred in the past.

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

It may even be worth suggesting that Meta explore other ways of data collection, such as anonymised data or synthetic data sets for AI training, instead of relying on personal information.

After all, other companies such as Google and Microsoft prioritise publicly available data for AI training over personal information. They also typically require explicit opt-in from users before incorporating their data into training processes.

What if your objection is rejected?

If you're unhappy with Meta's response to your objection,  you can file a complaint with the ICO. They can investigate Meta's practices and potentially issue fines or enforcement.

While less common, you could explore legal action against Meta if you believe its use of your data for AI training violates your privacy rights under GDPR. This route is usually for more serious cases and can be expensive, so consulting a lawyer specialising in data privacy is recommended.