Facial Recognition Tech“What this company is doing is starting a massive debate, which I think is going to be going on for the rest of the century, really.”

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Remember all those selfies you gleefully uploaded to Facebook back in the day? The hilarious shot of you and your dog that you had to share on Twitter that time? Not to mention that work bonding group shot you fired up to your Instagram just last week? Well, now all those pictures belong to a man called Hoan Ton-That. He’s the co-founder of US facial recognition software company, Clearview AI, which has been in the news recently, following revelations in The New York Times that law enforcement agencies across the US are using it to identify suspects.

Donie O’Sullivan, reporter on Disinformation, Politics and Technology for CNN – and proud Kerryman – joined Seán O’Rourke on Friday to talk about the ramifications of this fast-developing technology. Donie met Hoan Ton-That a few weeks ago and they discussed Clearview AI and what its facial recognition software could do. Volunteering himself as a subject of Clearview’s search, Donie wasn’t that surprised that Ton-That could, having taken a photo of him, then find lots of pictures from his social media feeds, but one picture that appeared on the list was very unexpected:

“As we were scrolling down through the images… I see this picture and I was shocked. A picture of me from the Kerry’s Eye newspaper – I’m from Cahirciveen – from when I was about 15 years old.”

Clearview boasts that its facial recognition technology can identify almost anyone’s face from combing online images from social media, YouTube and, obviously, Irish regional newspapers. Hoan Ton-That argues that the technology is a game-changer for law enforcement:

“His argument is, you know, if someone commits a crime, or somebody’s missing, or something like that, you can run a person’s face through the system and they will quickly be able to identify the person.”

You can see why law enforcement agencies are interested in the software. But there are, as Seán puts it, all manner of questions, from legal to moral to right to privacy issues. Donie agrees, suggesting it could be one of the biggest stories of the digital age to date:

“What this company is doing is starting a massive debate, which I think is going to be going on for the rest of the century, really, of privacy and our data and who owns it.”

The social media platforms, for one, are not happy that Clearview has “scraped” their images, but it’s not – ahem – clear if there’s anything they can do about it. Donie reckons that there’ll be some major court cases over the next few years that will try and figure out who owns what and what permission even means in the 21st century. Interesting times indeed.

You can hear Donie’s full chat with Seán here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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