Facial recognition, the new battleground for AI and privacy

facial recognition
Image credit | Bojan Jeremic

AI powered facial recognition is fast becoming the new front line in the privacy wars. A couple of days before we reported that the Vatican has aired grave concerns about AI and its use in facial recognition it turns out that a company at the heart of the matter was hacked.

Clearview AI scrapes faces off social media (billions of them) and then sells facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies (or so it says), mainly in the US.

Although the company says that the only information that was accessed was its customer list, it is still disturbing. And to more people than just the customers, who very probably wanted to remain anonymous.

One such person who is concerned is the Pope himself.

Teaming up with Microsoft and IBM to lobby for regulation in facial recognition, he said, through an intermediary, that

“Inequalities expand enormously; knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies.”

The problem is that, once again, we have two very opposed views of what is acceptable. On the one hand, privacy campaigners will tell you, loudly, that facial recognition is a direct threat to your privacy and should be banned or strictly regulated. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies will tell you, less loudly but with great seriousness, that facial recognition is a new and powerful tool against criminals.

Another view, which will worry the Pope and his allies, is that the CEO of Clearview AI – one Hoan Ton-That – believes it is his First Amendment right to collect faces from public forums such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Setting aside the rights and wrongs of using AI powered facial recognition, we should perhaps throw into the argument the question of what would potentially happen if billions of faces were stolen from a company like Clearview AI.

Presumably, the scope for identity theft is eye wateringly huge. Presumably the potential for creating deep fake content is equally huge. It could, potentially, cause complete chaos.

That the Pope himself is worried enough to speak out on the subject releases us from discussing how serious the issue is.

Add to this, the recent, rather quiet, news reports of the beginnings of frameworks, agreements and extended discussions around the use of AI in warfare and you come to a simple conclusion.

Like all new technology, AI in all its forms was touted as a step forward and good for mankind. The problem is, like all new technology, the potential for doing bad with it is as great.

Let the discussions continue, in the knowledge that the technology sector will have a leading role to play.

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