Finally Admits It Runs Selfies Against Preexisting Databases As IRS Reconsiders Its Partnership With The Company

from the CEO-Blake-Hall-finally-understanding-bluster-can-only-take-you-so-far dept

Tech company has made amazing inroads with government customers over the past several months. Some of this is due to unvetted claims by the company’s CEO, Blake Hall, who has asserted (without evidence) that the federal government lost $400 billion to fraudulent COVID-related claims in 2020. He also claimed (without providing evidence) that’s facial recognition tech was sturdy, sound, accurate, and backstopped by human review.

These claims were made after it became apparent the AI was somewhat faulty, resulting in people being locked out of their unemployment benefits in several states. This was a problem, considering was now being used by 27 states to handle dispersal of various benefits. And it was bound to get worse, if for no other reason than would be expected to handle an entire nation of beneficiaries, thanks to its contract with the IRS.

The other problem is the CEO’s attitude towards reported failures. He has yet to produce anything that backs up his $400 billion in fraud claim and when confronted with mass failures at state level has chosen to blame these on the actions of fraudsters, rather than people simply being denied access to benefits due to imperfect selfies.

Another claim made by Hall has resulted in a walk-back by’s CEO, prompted by increased scrutiny of his company’s activities. First, the company’s AI has never been tested by an outside party, which means any accuracy claims should be given some serious side-eye until it’s been independently verified.

But Hall also claimed the company wasn’t using any existing databases to match faces, insinuating the company relied on 1:1 matching to verify someone’s identity. But this couldn’t possibly be true for all benefit seekers, who had never previously uploaded a photo to the company’s servers, only to be rejected when claimed to not find a match.

It’s obvious the company was using 1:many matching, which carries with it a bigger potential for failure, as well as the inherent flaws of almost all facial recognition tech: the tendency to be less reliable when dealing with women and minorities.

This increased outside scrutiny of has forced CEO Blake Hall to come clean. And it started with his own employees pointing out how continuing to maintain this line of “1-to-1” bullshit would come back to haunt the company. Internal chats obtained by CyberScoop show employees imploring Hall to be honest about the company’s practices before his dishonesty caused it any more damage.

“We could disable the 1:many face search, but then lose a valuable fraud-fighting tool. Or we could change our public stance on using 1:many face search,” an engineer wrote in a message posted to a company Slack channel on Tuesday. “But it seems we can’t keep doing one thing and saying another as that’s bound to land us in hot water.”

The internal messages, obtained by CyberScoop, also imply that the company discussed the use of 1:many with the IRS in a meeting.

Those messages had a direct effect: Blake Hall issued a LinkedIn post that admitted the company used 1:many verification, which indicates the company also relies on outside databases to verify identity.

In the Wednesday LinkedIn post Hall said that 1:many verification is used “once during enrollment” and “is not tied to identity verification.”

“It does not block legitimate users from verifying their identity, nor is it used for any other purpose other than to prevent identity theft,” he writes.

Hall’s post hedges things quite a bit by insinuating any failures to access benefits is the result of malicious fraudsters, rather than any flaws in’s tech. But this belated honesty — along with the company’s multiple failures at the state level — has caused the IRS to reconsider its reliance on’s AI. (Archived link here.)

The Treasury Department is reconsidering the Internal Revenue Service’s reliance on facial recognition software for access to its website, an official said Friday amid scrutiny of the company’s collection of images of tens of millions of Americans’ faces.

Treasury and the IRS are looking into alternatives to, the department official said, and the agencies are in the meantime attentive to concerns around the software.

This doesn’t mean the IRS has divested itself of completely. At the moment, it’s only doing some shopping around. Filing your taxes online still means subjecting yourself to’s verification software for the time being.

A recent blog post on’s site explains how the company verifies identity as well as names the algorithms it relies on to match faces, which include Paravision (which has been tested by the NIST) and Amazon’s Rekognition, a product Amazon took off the law enforcement market in 2020, perhaps sensing the public’s reluctance to embrace even more domestic surveillance tech.

This may be too little too late for Its refusal to engage honestly and transparently with the public while gobbling up state and federal government contracts has expanded its scrutiny past that of the Extremely Online. Senator Ron Wyden wants to know why the IRS has made the only option for online filing.

I’m very disturbed that Americans may have to submit to a facial recognition system, wait on hold for hours, or both, to access personal data on the IRS website. While e-filing returns remain unaffected, I’m pushing the IRS for greater transparency on this plan.

But e-filing is affected. As the IRS’s spokesperson noted in a statement to Bloomberg, is still standing between e-filers and e-filing.

[IRS spokesperson Barbara] LaManna noted that any taxpayer who does not want to use can opt against filing his or her taxes online.

It may be true that people with existing accounts might be able to route around this tech impediment, but new filers are still forced to interact with to set up accounts for e-filing. If spotty state interactions created national headlines, just wait until a nation of millions starts putting’s tech through its paces.

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Comments on “ Finally Admits It Runs Selfies Against Preexisting Databases As IRS Reconsiders Its Partnership With The Company”

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ECA (profile) says:

So many ways

1 is the idea he is any better then any other company doing this.

To fix about 1/2 of this is to goto the DOT for the state, and grab those Drivers license pictures. Then request the State Assistance Programs Take a picture, as DOT has done.

The Hole is who the person on the phone is taking a picture of.
Then another is thinking Everyone has a phone or even a Good camera on the phone.

spamvictim (profile) says:

At least get your complaints right

The Treasury’s ID.ME verification is for a part of their web site that lets you get a transcript of previous payments and transactions.
It is not for filing your taxes. You can’t file taxes directly with the IRS, only through a tax preparer. If your income is low enough, some of them offer free filing but that is a different story. Still, no ID.ME.
It is also not for checking your refund status. Different part of the web site, much simpler verification using info from your return.
I did the ID.ME verification which was a pain in the rear since most of my IDs including my driver’s license have my PO box, not my street address, and my passport picture is so bad I finally had to write on the scan THIS IS AN ACCURATE SCAN, THE PICTURE REALLY IS THAT BAD.
I finally did get an agent on the line who verified that I am me, so it works, for some version of works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: At least get your complaints right

You can’t file taxes directly with the IRS, only through a tax preparer.

Yes you can, it’s called Free File Fillable Forms, anyone (regardless of income) can file directly with the IRS.

It does require a certain amount of knowledge, since they don’t guide you through the process like a tax preparer does.

Alica says:

Re: Re: FreeFillableForms

Exactly. I use FreeFillableForms for years and it requires most basic intelligence to file on your own. But you can’t explain it to the sheep, they’ll continue to believe they can’t file on their own or whatever else lies they’ve been brainwashed to believe.
Expect the gubimint to try to cut off Free Fillable Forms though, considering where it all is going (digital concentration camp to benefit monster corporations). In this case I’ll just file paper returns like I’ve done for many years before Free Fillable Forms. It takes nothing to learn how to fill the forms out, even the complex tax situations become easy once you gradually increase the complexity of the return and add more forms to it – no biggies. I will not submit to their evil.

Alica says:

Great reporting, thank you! One needs to include the facts you had mentioned in their complaints t Senators, Congress reps, State Attorney General offices and government agencies such as SSA, to knock this down and kick them out of a few states they took control of, where they took over EDD/SDI access. I firmly believe they’re corrupt entity that gained access to our government through corrupt channels, while they’re benefiting external entities outside America.

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