A new facial recognition app, Clearview AI, which uses artificial intelligence (and tbh sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi/horror film) is causing worry amongst Twitter users and beyond. Why? Because all it needs is a single photograph to identify a person, meaning that, in theory, a total stranger could snap you in the street and then be privvy to your name and social media handles. Yikes.
Currently, as reported in a brilliant New York Times investigation by Kashmir Hill, the app is only being used by American law enforcement officers (ranging from the FBI to local police units) but it could be made available to the public in future. Even investors of the Clearview AI app have suggested they think as much.
The app works by taking images from a range of websites, including YouTube, Instagram and Venmo (a popular US-based money app) to create a database. The user of the app then uploads a photo of the person they want to find information about and are shown matching images from this database, along with links as to where they came from in the first place. If the links are social media sites, then it's pretty obvious that the person's name will appear too. The report even says it could show where a person lives.
If the app is made available to the public, there are real concerns that it could enable stalking, invade privacy or be used incorrectly to perpetrate crimes, rather than prevent or solve them, as the company behind it says is intended.
One of the investors in Clearview AI, David Scalzo, said of the app, "I’ve come to the conclusion that because information constantly increases, there’s never going to be privacy. Laws have to determine what’s legal, but you can’t ban technology. Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but you can’t ban it.” Which is pretty worrying.
Currently, it's only confirmed that the app is being used in the United States. In a recent blog post addressing concerns that the facial recognition tool could be used inappropriately if, as one of its investors say it may well be, made available to the public, Clearview AI denied such a possibility:
"While many people have advised us that a public version would be more profitable, we have rejected the idea. Clearview exists to help law enforcement agencies solve the toughest cases, and our technology comes with strict guidelines and safeguards to ensure investigators use it for its intended purpose only."
Days after the New York Times report, another story appeared on the website, saying that Twitter sent a cease and desist letter to the app and its founder Hoan Ton-That. It was also claimed New Jersey police officers were also told they were not allowed to use the app.
One Twitter user referred to the app as "stalker technology":
Every single one of my women friends have been followed off the bus or subway by a creepy man. They've hidden in stores, sought police officers, or just started running. If those guys could snap a photo and find their address?!— OrangeGoth 🍊🦇🎃 (@ThatAuntZelda) January 20, 2020
Tech bros need to stop creating stalker technology.
Another aired concerns that even if Clearview AI is only available for use by law enforcement officers at this time, they could still go rogue and use the product incorrectly or for personal reasons:
Even NYPD officers are talking to reporters about the foreseeable issues with Clearview:— Ángel S. Díaz (@AngelSDiaz_) January 23, 2020
"It only takes one cop to put in his ex-girlfriend’s photo in there and see who she’s dating now...They’re playing with fire. It’s going to catch up to them.”https://t.co/qbTDzMSGm4
Accuracy is also a concern, with reports claiming Clearview AI is only accurate "75% of the time".
Clearview AI told Cosmopolitan that search results using its systems were indicative only and that law enforcement agencies must conduct additional research to verify a person’s identity. It also said that Clearview AI is not available for public use and is neither designed nor intended to be used as evidence in a court of law.
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