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Facebook And Instagram Are Showing People Strange AI-Generated Descriptions Of Their Photos

"Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeup and indoor."

Last updated on July 3, 2019, at 3:06 p.m. ET

Posted on July 3, 2019, at 2:58 p.m. ET

BuzzFeed News

Facebook and Instagram were hit by massive outages and weren't functioning properly on Wednesday — and the apps started showing what appeared to be AI-generated captions of people's photographs.

These captions are basic descriptions of what's in the picture, including how many people it might include, what they're doing, basic objects, and where it was taken.

BuzzFeed News

Facebook and Instagram have not yet responded to requests for comment.

The ability to scan images via machine learning is a big focus for Facebook across its family of apps. Facebook has been generating alternative text for users with vision impairments since 2015. In 2017, it updated its alternative text tools to more accurately scan people's photos.

Understandably, though, people are sort of creeped out at Facebook barfing up descriptions of their photographs.

Part of me, though, just wants to see how Facebook would describe a screenshot of how it describes photos.

People were not happy learning about what autogenerated intel Facebook and Instagram created about their photos.

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:

It also leads to some uncomfortable questions about how advertisers might be using data scraped from people's photographs.

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?

Oh yeah! I forgot Facebook uses machine learning to tag our photos with what it sees in the picture. To be fair, "one person, beard" is pretty much a spot-on description of me.

Both apps had to use their Twitter accounts Wednesday to alert users to the overall issue, though there was no clarity about the resulting descriptions.

We’re aware that some people are having trouble uploading or sending images, videos and other files on our apps. We're sorry for the trouble and are working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. #facebookdown

We’re aware that some people are having trouble uploading or sending images and videos on Instagram. We're sorry for the trouble and are working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. #instagramdown


This is Twitter users when Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp is Down #instagramdown #WhatsAppDown #facebookdown

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.