Journalist Will Knight’s recent Wired interview with Hoan Ton-That, the CEO of facial recognition software company, Clearview AI, makes for riveting reading. In their discussion, Ton-That raised his smartphone loaded with his company’s app and snapped a photo of Knight.
The app soon produced dozens of images of Knight scraped from U.S. and international websites, spanning a decade. In this way, Clearview AI can tell who you are and link users to your social media posts to reveal your beliefs, activities and relationships.
In March, the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability reported that as many as 3,000 law enforcement organizations may be accessing Clearview AI’s software for investigations. At that time, Clearview had accumulated 1 billion images scraped from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Ton-That now says Clearview AI has 10 billion images, boosting his claims of the software’s improved accuracy.
Another Clearview AI feature is even more problematic. It uses machine learning to fill in a person’s face from a partial image, as well as those that have been deliberately blurred. Given that guesswork by artificial intelligence is required, Clearview AI’s “deblurring” technology raises new questions about the accuracy of this technology and the possibility of innocent people being mistakenly targeted for arrest or a midnight SWAT raid.
It is concerns like these that led PPSA in April to join almost 70 civil liberties groups urging Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to order his agencies to discontinue – or at least clarify – their use of Clearview AI facial recognition software.
Clearview AI, disdained by other facial recognition software providers for pushing the envelope of acceptability, is an outlier – for now. Whether through that company or another, the potential of this technology is being realized. Will privacy still exist in any meaningful sense when individuals and businesses, as well as law enforcement, can use our faces to immediately reveal almost everything about us?