Privacy apocalypse: Experts worry about a new facial recognition app

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Clearview AI, a U.S. startup, announced that it created a giant database with facial biometric data of nearly half of the world’s population, raising concerns that the app could mean an end to privacy.

His application automatically selects and compares facial photos from all publicly available sources and databases, revealing not only the identity of the person being watched but all his virtual life story based on vacation and work photos, social networking, school albums, and other personal information available on the web.

The main creator of the app is thirty-one-year-old Hoan Ton-That, a native Vietnamese-born Australian who lives in the U.S. today.

So far, Clearview reportedly collected face biometric data of three billion people, which is 40 percent of the world’s population.

Over 600 police departments have used the app, such as the one in Gainesville, Florida, which has managed to detain dozens of criminals thanks to Clearview. The app is growing in popularity with police over its ability to identify suspects from photos or surveillance video in cases ranging from shop lifting to murder.

However, it is not possible to absolutely rely on the application and its possibility to always assign a real identity to a particular person’s photo. Since many of the images used to find matches are taken from surveillance cameras placed on high walls or ceilings, securing an accurate match is not always reliable since facial recognition works best with images taken at eye-level.

Yet, the application is of concern not only in Europe but also in the U.S., where the rules surrounding personal data are much more lax.

Some privacy advocates have said the software is another reason why a complete nationwide ban on facial recognition is necessary. Some cities are taking heed, with San Francisco in 2019 becoming the first city to ban the technology.

While the software is effective at solving crimes, the potential for abuse is enormous, especially when the ability to identify anybody in seconds has now become a reality for law enforcement. There are fears that the police could use the software to identify protesters at a demonstration or foreign intelligence services could identify a target for blackmail.

“There will always be a community of bad people who abuse technology,” the creator of the system Ton-That, who is also aware of the risks of abuse, told the New York Times.

However, as the Times points out, even if Clearview was banned from using the system, the taboo surrounding the technology has already been broken. Now, there are fears that it is only a matter of time when the technology becomes available to public, a scenario that could mean an “end of privacy as we know it” and an absolute end of public anonymity.

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