Instagram Outage Reveals Eerie Look Into the App's Facial Recognition

Wednesday's Instagram outage was not just inconvenient, but a little unnerving for some users, who got a behind-the-scenes look at the app's facial recognition technology. Many people posted screenshots showing how the glitchy site displayed its best guess at what a photo might contain, and results were eerie to say the least.

As usual, Wednesday's Facebook and Instagram outage led many users back to Twitter, where they discussed the strange quirks of the issue. For some, Instagram would load, but the images would not. In a handful of cases, the empty spots where the images should have been showed descriptions of the pictures.

"Instagram is down again, but when I opened my profile on my computer it showed descriptions of the photos on my feed?" wrote one person. "And they were all accurate?"

The descriptions were clearly computer generated, showing that some kind of algorithm at Instagram tracks what is in pictures. They read like: "Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and indoor," or: "Image may contain: 3people, people standing, ocean, sky, beach, cloud, outdoor, water and nature."

Facebook and Instagram have slowly phased in facial recognition and other new technology over the last few years, in spite of the fact that many find it invasive. Back in February, users got a message informing them that face recognition would be added to more features on Facebook, allowing the site to find photos that users were in but were not tagged in.

Many of these updates have been buried in huge user agreements, and went largely unnoticed at first. With a bug like this, some users are discovering the depths of Instagram and Facebook's data collection for the first time.

The issue could make users think twice about signing on once Instagram and Facebook are up and running again. Starting at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, both sites began experiencing widespread outages, with reports coming in from all over the world.

According to Down Detector, many of the outages were concentrated in the north-eastern United States, as well as the U.K. and parts of Germany. However, reports straggled in from South America, southern California and elsewhere around the world.


So far, Facebook has not issued a statement on its latest spate of outages. Judging by the response on Twitter, users are getting pretty fed up, as this is at least the fourth major outage of 2019 for the company.

Check back for updates on the current Facebook and Instagram outage.