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Security & privacy

Anyone can snap a photo of you and see who you are, where you live

One of the dangers inherent to technology is its potential for abuse. We now possess cameras and spy tech small enough to fit almost anywhere, and like clockwork, savvy business people market them to governments and law enforcement. It’s a total expansion of surveillance around the world.

It’s happening on a consumer level, too. Visitors to this year’s CES got an early taste of our spy-centric future, with surveillance tech taking center stage in smart home technologies. Tap or click to see how much spy tech was on display at CES 2020.

But it was only a matter of time before someone took surveillance tech a bit too far. A shadowy startup called Clearview AI has developed a system that perfectly identifies people with nothing more than a photo. What’s worse, the FBI and law enforcement already have their hands on it. What, exactly, is it capable of?

Clearview AI: ‘What’s up, Orwell?’

According to an explosive New York Times report, a little-known startup called Clearview AI has developed the capability to identify people based on a single image of their faces.

This app is apparently in the hands of hundreds of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, who claims to have used it to solve cases ranging from homicide and child exploitation all the way to petty crimes like shoplifting.

This app is not available to the general public, and little is known about its parent company. But Clearview investors and law enforcement officials interviewed by the Times believe it’s only a matter of time before it falls into the publics’ hands.

Wait, what?

How is this nightmare app possible?

Clearview AI deceptively appears to be less than the sum of its parts. Though a small app, it draws immense power from its database — which includes more than 3 billion photos Clearview claims it scraped from major web platforms like YouTube, Venmo and, most notably, Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, you sure get around.

This photo database is gargantuan compared to previous databases used by law enforcement. Even the FBI’s own only contains somewhere in the realm of 700 million images — but the FBI database pulls from public record photos like licences and passports.

When the app is used, a source photo is loaded and matched against Clearview AI’s database. Any matches are served up to the user alongside links to their source. And, naturally, names are included if the images trace back to social media. Tap or click to see what information Facebook is sharing.

Is this the beginning of a new age of mass surveillance in the United States? Has it already begun? Needless to say, time may be running out for those wishing to live a truly private lifestyle.

How can I protect my privacy when this thing exists?

As it stands, this app collects information from social media and online platforms. As we’ve said in previous reports, it should be assumed that any information you post online is public, and therefore forfeit. Making your social media accounts private is an obvious remedy, but that may not go far enough.

Since not many details are known about Clearview AI at the moment, it may be sensible to accept it already has access to many of your photos. Rather than continue to “feed the beast,” it might just be a good idea to get off platforms like Facebook altogether.

Tap or click here to see why Kim says you should break up with Facebook.

In the early days of the web, anonymity was seen as the medium’s greatest strength. Now, it’s often taken for granted. Maybe 2020 is a good year to look back at the lessons from our past as we try to build toward a more private future.

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