New App From Clearview AI Lets Strangers Know Who You Are
Sun, April 18, 2021

New App From Clearview AI Lets Strangers Know Who You Are

The term "facial recognition" brings to mind a feature on our smartphones that can unlock the device just by recognizing the owner’s face. However, facial recognition does so much more than just simply unlocking your phone / Photo by: Elnur Amikishiyev via 123RF

 

The term "facial recognition" brings to mind a feature on our smartphones that can unlock the device just by recognizing the owner’s face. However, facial recognition does so much more than just simply unlocking your phone. As we continue to use the technology, it will become more advanced and increasingly accurate. 

A report by Markets and Markets, an online site that offers market research reports and custom research services on 30000 high growth opportunities, projected that the facial recognition market will grow to $7 billion by 2024 from only $3.2 billion in 2019. It is expected to reach a CAGR of 16.6% from 2019 to 2024. The major driver of this growth is the growing investments from government and defense verticals. The deployment of facial recognition-based attendance tracking and monitoring is also gaining traction worldwide.

Tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have been heavily investing in facial recognition technologies. They regularly publish their theoretical discoveries in the fields of artificial intelligence, image recognition, and face analysis. At the same time, researchers from across the world are continuously developing their own facial recognition technologies. For instance, researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong developed the GaussianFace algorithm which achieved facial identification scores of 98.52% compared with the 97.53% achieved by humans.

Facebook launched its DeepFace program back in 2014. It could determine whether two photographed faces belong to the same person. The tool achieved an accuracy rate of 97.25%, but Google made an even better version. In 2015, Google launched FaceNet which managed to link a face to its owner with almost perfect results using an artificial neural network and a new algorithm. FaceNet achieved a new record accuracy of 99.63%.

Today, facial recognition technologies are mostly used as a crime-fighting tool. For instance, the driver’s license facial recognition technology used in New York City in 2017 led to 4,000 arrests. In 2018, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in New Delhi positively identified 2,930 missing children in just four days using facial recognition technology. 

The Clearview App

With the increasing breakthroughs and developments of facial recognition technology, it’s not surprising to see that many companies and startups are riding the trend. One of these startups is Clearview AI, a facial recognition company founded by Hoan Ton-That. Clearview AI developed a groundbreaking facial recognition app that has been receiving mixed reactions from experts and the public.

You could take a photo of an individual, upload it on the app, and get to see public photos of that person. This includes links to where those photos appeared. According to Tech.Co, a media company and events organization for startups, entrepreneurs, and technology enthusiasts, the app is currently available to law enforcement only, and it has led to several arrests. It is now being used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the US. While federal and state law enforcement officers admitted that they have only limited knowledge of how Clearview works, they have already used it to help solve different crimes such as shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder, and child sexual exploitation cases. 

In one instance, Indiana State Police were able to solve a case using the app in just 20 minutes. The app’s ability to match a picture to a database of billions of public photos is made possible by Clearview’s system, which is built upon a database of over three billion images scraped from the internet and several social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and more. While the app is currently available to the public, officers and Clearview’s investors predicted that the app will eventually be available to the public.

With the increasing breakthroughs and developments of facial recognition technology, it’s not surprising to see that many companies and startups are riding the trend. One of these startups is Clearview AI, a facial recognition company founded by Hoan Ton-That / Photo by: vchalup via 123RF

 

Clearview Criticism

While the benefits of the app could help law enforcement solve more cases, privacy advocates warn that the app could return false matches to police and even create a police surveillance state. According to The Verge, an American technology news and media network that publishes news items, long-form feature stories, guidebooks, product reviews, and podcasts, it was reported that police departments used doctored images that could lead to wrongful arrests. 

A staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union suggested that a federal law regarding facial recognition technology is needed considering the capabilities of Clearview’s app. “This is a disturbing demonstration of the dangerous reality of face recognition technology today, and the urgent need for lawmakers to immediately halt law enforcement use of it,” Nathan Freed Wessler said. 

The app also has dangerous repercussions. According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, users of the app would potentially be able to identify every person they see. This could mean they can identify an attractive stranger on the subway or activists at a protest. The app would not only reveal their names but also where they lived, what they did, and whom they knew.

While the benefits of the app could help law enforcement solve more cases, privacy advocates warn that the app could return false matches to police and even create a police surveillance state / Photo by: Andriy Popov via 123RF

 

“The weaponization possibilities of this are endless. Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail,” Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, said. 

Thus, many organizations have called out governments and private entities to regulate facial recognition. For instance, Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, called the government to ban the use of facial recognition technology. They called on people to “meet surveillance capitalism head-on.” Also, Demand Progress, a digital rights group, called on Congress to work on federal legislation.

“We’ve been tracking facial recognition for some time and thought we’d seen it all. But this story shows our worst fears have become real. It’s time for Congress to act,” the group said. 

Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University, stated that the amount of money involved in developing and using these systems means that they need to be banned before the abuse of them becomes more widespread. “I don’t see a future where we harness the benefits of face recognition technology without the crippling abuse of the surveillance that comes with it. The only way to stop it is to ban it,” he said.

The Clearview app shows that while facial recognition can provide benefits to law enforcement and governments, this kind of technology should still be regulated to avoid abuse.