Imagine you are walking down the street and someone takes your photo, uploads it to an app and finds all of your information. Well, this scenario is not only imaginable but also possible now. Hoan Ton-That co-founded a secret startup called Clearview AI and created a facial recognition app named Clearview. A report submitted by The New York Times says that Clearview is currently being used in the US by the police, including the FBI to identify suspects.
After the police upload a photo to Clearview, the app compares the picture to a database of more than 3 billion photos and displays all the pictures that match. The company says that it scraped the web and collected billions of public photos from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Venmo. The pictures also contain the link where the original photo came from. From this, the police can easily find the person’s name and any other information that is publicly available.
Clearview’s database of 3 billion is 7 times bigger than the FBI’s own database of 411 million. The FBI’s database includes passport and driver license photos only, whereas Clearview’s database also includes personal photos of people.
Clearview has helped law enforcement to track down murders and terrorists
Clearview’s mission is to help “law enforcement track down hundreds of at-large criminals, including pedophiles, terrorists and sex traffickers.” Police officers say that they have used the app to solve various crimes such as shoplifting and murder.
Regardless of the fact that Clearview has helped solve the “hardest crimes”, the question of privacy still rises. The app could be used by stalkers or governments could use it to conduct mass surveillance of their citizens.
The co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, Eric Goldman, told the New York Times that “the weaponization possibilities of [Clearview] are endless.
Goldman elaborated and said: “Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners. Or a foreign government using [Clearview] to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”
Another problem with the app is that it is not always accurate. Clearview provides matched pictures to the uploaded image only 75 % of the time. The app is currently not available to the public, but according to The Times, police officers and Clearview investors think it will be in the future. On Tuesday, the startup issued a statement that its: “technology is intended only for use by law enforcement and security personnel. It is not intended for use by the general public.”
I think that apps such as Clearview should be monitored and regulated. Especially where the privacy of millions of people is concerned.
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