Facial recognition technology has been in the news recently thanks to the recent protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Tech giants like Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft have said they will not sell facial recognition software to law enforcement, which has used the technology in the past to identify protesters. But as John Oliver pointed out in Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” the cat is likely already out of the bag.
One large-scale study about facial recognition found that approximately half of all Americans have had a photo of them added to a facial recognition database used by law enforcement, and the use of this technology is currently unregulated.
Oliver singled out one company, Clearview AI, which was the subject of a New York Times investigation earlier this year. Clearview has received cease-and-desist orders from Facebook, Twitter, and Google for scraping their images without the company’s consent in order to bolster the company’s database, which has more than 3 billion images. Besides being used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies, Clearview has deals with companies like Macy’s and Walmart, has reached out to former congressional candidate and white supremacist Paul Nehlen to offer “opposition research” services, and has talked with countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“You’re probably in that database, even if you don’t know it,” Oliver said, of Clearview AI’s 3 billion-strong image database. “If a photo of you has been uploaded to the internet, there’s a decent chance that Clearview has it, even if someone uploaded it without your consent. Even if you untagged yourself or later set your account to private.”
Oliver said that despite tech companies vowing not to sell these technologies following the recent protests, we need a “comprehensive nationwide policy” around facial recognition technology and its uses.
“There is nothing to stop those companies from changing their mind if people’s outrage dies down,” Oliver said.