from the [incoherent-screaming-into-the-void] dept
Clearview AI is inserting itself into a discussion no one invited it to participate in. The discussion around contact tracing to manage and (hopefully) impede the spread of the coronavirus involves multiple governments around the world. It also includes Google and Apple, who are partnering to create a platform for contact tracing apps.
At least in the case of Google and Apple’s offerings, there appears to have been a serious discussion about protecting users’ privacy as much as possible while still offering a valuable service to government health agencies and people concerned about contracting the virus.
Now, Clearview has blundered into the discussion — a company that has shown utter disdain for the millions of people it has force-fed to its multi-billion image database via social media site scraping. There is no opting in or out of this collection — one that Clearview is selling to law enforcement agencies in the US and to government agencies around the world. If it’s on the web, it’s likely already in Clearview’s database.
In a brief discussion with NBC News, CEO Hoan Ton-That pitched his idea for a Clearview-based contact tracing program. What Ton-That wants to do is tie his app and its database to thousands of CCTV cameras located in stores, parking lots, gyms, and other locations where, as he puts it, “there’s no expectation of privacy.” Ton-That doesn’t explain how his system will be notified of a person’s COVID status, but he’s pretty sure his software will be able to recognize faces accurately. Clearview’s facial recognition AI remains unproven, but it’s supposedly capable of making guesses about faces using images as small as 110×110.
Ton-That also seems unconcerned about the privacy implications of adding people’s health status to his enormous database of scraped personal information. He says any limitations on gathering/storage of this info would be up to whoever decides to take him up on his unsolicited offer.
Obviously, no one should do this. The AI is unproven and Clearview is far from trustworthy. Activist group Fight For The Future has issued its official statement on Clearview’s contact tracing pitch. It’s short but punchy.
“Absolutely the fuck not,” said Evan Greer (she/her), the groups Deputy Director.
As FFTF points out, adding Clearview to the mix just adds more potential privacy violations to the mix by dumping people’s health info into a database that’s already being accessed by a number of private companies and government agencies around the world. Ton-That appears to assume that anyone in a “public” area is fair game for his company. Adding thousands of cameras operated by hundreds of private companies would provide a steady flow of facial images (some tied to very personal information) into his database, making his product even more enticing to government agencies.
Hopefully, no one will let Clearview near any of this. Facial recognition adds nothing to contact tracing — something that can be done almost anonymously using the platform developed by Google and Apple. Hoovering up facial images — along with location data and health info — is a privacy nightmare. And there’s probably no company that should be trusted less with your personal info than Clearview, which has repeatedly demonstrated it cares nothing about the millions of people it has turned into fodder for its unproven tech.