Clearview AI: Next Generation Surveillance

By Jason Nelson

Clearview AI is a facial recognition platform created by Australian Technologist Hoan Ton. What troubles privacy advocates about Clearview AI is how it searches the internet for images of the person in question. 

In 2020, we lived online. You would be hard press to find a person under forty in the United States that does not have a Facebook page.

In an article from the New York Times, “The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It.” Clearview scrapes the internet for images of a person. Searching sites like Facebook, YouTube, and others to find a picture and a name associated with that image. 

According to the NYT article, law enforcement agencies in the United States are using the technology. Using a database of images scraped from the internet, solving cases ranging from shoplifting to murder. 

Clearview is the next-level surveillance technology. Being able to take a picture of someone and then to search the internet. Not for a name or location, but an image puts all of our privacy and safety at risk. 

Facial recognition technology is continually evolving. But the technology is far from perfect and has been known to produce false-positive results. The other issue with facial recognition technology is who could potentially use it.

Clare Garvie of the George Town University Center on Privacy & Technology wrote of an instance on Members of the NYPD used a picture of actor Woody Harrelson. 

An image of a shoplifter taken by the store security camera came back with no results. So the NYPD used a photo of the actor to generate results. Not long after, the NYPD arrested a man whose appearance matched the picture.

The other issue with facial recognition, there is evidence that the algorithms behind the programs show Bias. Bias to race, age, and gender according to a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology “Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) Part 3: Demographic Effects.” 

Facial recognition software is also only as good as the photo or sketch provided to it, which brings us back to Clearview AI. 

Modern mobile phones produce extraordinary pictures, and the selfie has become a mainstay of modern life. Our photos are floating around the internet, waiting for someone to find them.

Clearview AI shows that technology companies like Apple and Samsung must do more. Not only to protect our data like phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers. But more importantly, to protect our very image. 

Clearview AI is not currently on the market for the public, but it is only a matter of time before it is.

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