Skip to main content

Terrifying Clearview app could be the end of anonymity in public places

New facial recognition technology could be used to identify anyone who steps foot in a public place, and it’s already in use by police in the U.S., according to a report by the New York Times.

A tiny company called Clearview developed an app that can use an existing photo of a person to search for other photos of them online, along with links to where those photos are hosted. The company says the app accesses a database of more than three billion images, collected from social media sites like Facebook and YouTube.

The app has been provided to “hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security,” according to the NYT, and could be in use across the U.S. and beyond. Law enforcement officers have confirmed they have used the app to investigate a range of crimes, from the serious to the petty.

Facial recognition technology is already changing life as we know it, being used for security checks at airports, for police investigations, and for monitoring large events like concerts. However, existing technology generally images faces and matches them to a set database, such as a list of persons wanted by law enforcement. The Clearview technology, on the other hand, essentially allows the identification of anyone it images who has a presence online and also provides a list of links to sites to learn more about that person.

This is concerning not only because of the potentially disastrous privacy implications but also because of the power it gives to a private company. Law enforcement agencies admitted to the NYT that they didn’t fully understand how the software worked, and also that Clearview appears to have the ability to monitor who law enforcement is running searches on.

Recently, people have been questioning whether tech companies have too much power and whether they should be providing privacy-invading technology to law enforcement. Amazon has been roundly criticized for its providing of facial recognition software to law enforcement, with civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union saying that the technology is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments” and that it “poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Never remember a face? A new AR facial-recognition app could jog your memory
ar app face blindness friends meeting at party

What do Brad Pitt, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and the late neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, have in common? Answer: All of them suffer, or have claimed to suffer, from prosopagnosia, a rare disease that affects around 2.5 percent of the population. Better known as face blindness, prosopagnosia is a neurological condition in which patients struggle to recognize people they have met -- even when they might have known them for decades. Could augmented reality help?

A new startup called SocialRecall, created by Harvard neuroscience Ph.D. Barry Sandrew, is hoping the answer is “yes.” SocialRecall is developing an app that uses facial-recognition technology to help people in social situations be reminded of the identity of the individuals they meet.

Read more
Facebook’s photo tag suggestions could violate Illinois law — and cost billions
tokyo 2020 olympics facial recognition

A judge denied Facebook’s request to toss out a lawsuit arguing that photo tag suggestions breaks a state law against collection of biometric data -- twice. The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2015 but in a ruling filed on April 16, Judge James Donato denied the social network’s request to throw out the lawsuit. Donato, a federal judge in San Fransisco, also denied the same request in 2016.

The lawsuit claims that Facebook is breaking an Illinois state law that prohibits collection of biometric data without written consent, called the Biometric Information Privacy Act, by collecting user facial recognition data used in tools like photo tagging. Three Illinois residents are the plaintiffs in the case, but the ruling could represent millions more in the state, according to NPR. Monday’s ruling only says that there’s enough information for the case to move forward.

Read more
Tokyo 2020 Olympics could deploy facial-recognition tech on a huge scale
tokyo 2020 olympics facial recognition

While the jury is still out on the extent to which facial recognition technology will be used globally years from now, many tech firms are continuing to push ahead with its development, with big players like Apple going so far as to incorporate it into its flagship iPhone X handset.

Now the organizing committee of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics is taking notice of the technology, and wants to use it on a huge scale at the global sporting extravaganza, sources told the Japan Times recently.

Read more