Imagine you’re at a restaurant and you spot someone two booths away that triggers a brief memory, right before you lose it. You think you recognize someone in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, but can’t quite pinpoint how you would know them. You’re out for a morning jog and pass a person that seems vaguely familiar, but are unable to place them. Here, where the mind fails, technology takes over.
“Clearview AI” is a facial recognition app and surveillance company. It compiles billions of photographs from the internet in a quest to make it easier to catalog and identify people. Its website touts that it is “a new research tool used by law enforcement agencies to identify perpetrators and victims of crime.”
With technology continuing to develop at a rapid pace, anonymity continues to decrease. Whether you are hoping to relax after a long work day, praying for a peaceful lull after a group project or a celebrity hiding from hordes of fans, humans appreciate the ability to be temporarily unknown.
As of February 2020, Clearview was something that only law enforcement personnel had access to. If it is made available to the general public, that face you could never quite recall might become nameable.
Facial recognition is nothing new to the 2000s. The technology has existed in police databases before. Musician Taylor Swift even covertly planted facial recognition AI at her concert venues to look out for stalkers.
So why is this such a huge deal? Clearview’s implemented strategies and tools could mean an end for anonymity and privacy once and for all.
According to Forbes, facial recognition technology can lead to wrongful convictions, possible biases or misinformation and abuse of power.
Clearview is also very secretive. It took several months of haggling from a New York Times reporter to finally get a hold of a representative of the company. Its LinkedIn profile is also mysteriously blank.
This is cause for concern, considering the company is based on scraping the internet for human faces. Why hide this service? Could it be because they are not being entirely honest of its objectives?
Pure anonymity may soon be a thing of the past. With the threat of constant surveillance in the possible near future, many have attempted to counter this creatively.
There now exists anti-surveillance fashion. This includes hairstyles, hats and clothes designed to thwart artificial intelligence (AI). In such cases, manipulating the way lights and darkness hit human faces is key in achieving nonrecognition.
Edward Snowden has designed a phone case to alert the owner when the phone’s data is being monitored. Similarly, The CHBL Jammer Coat can “distract, deter and diffuse surveillance technology from recognizing your existence in any space” and also protects technology when concealed inside the coat.
Another extreme proposed solution some have adopted is to buy a 3D-printed mask of another person’s face and wear it. A less expensive alternative is a free version of the mask that one can print out on paper.
While some hypothesize and reject this AI’s concept, others adapt and compromise.
Facial recognition has allegedly helped catch predators and criminals, but it may be the final straw of what little privacy we have left.