Imagine if someone could just snap your photo on the street and quickly find out who you are and where you live. Clearview AI’s facial recognition app makes it possible. A class-action lawsuit alleges that Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant is violating children’s privacy. Working side-by-side with robots can be stressful for warehouse employees.
Big Brother is watching. Small startup Clearview AI has been making headlines recently with a facial-recognition app so powerful that someone could walk up to you on the street, snap your photo, and quickly find out your name, address and phone number, according to a report in The New York Times.
The app automatically collects images of people’s faces from across the Internet, scraping employment sites, news sites, educational sites and social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and even Venmo to create a database of more than three billion images. (Representatives of the companies said their policies prohibit such scraping, and Twitter has explicitly banned use of its data for facial recognition.)
Unlike many facial recognition programs, Clearview’s algorithm doesn’t require photos of people looking straight at the camera. The individual can be wearing a hat or glasses, or it can be a profile shot or partial view of their face.
Clearview claims it is only selling its services to law enforcement agencies such as local cops, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.The app has already been used to help solve cases involving shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation.
However, many worry this kind of technology is ripe for abuse, whether by stalkers, people with a history of domestic abuse or anyone else who would want to find out everything about you for a nefarious purpose. “The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, told the Times. “Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”
Even if the technology isn’t misused, it still comes with risks. False positives can incriminate the wrong people. The product hasn’t been vetted by independent experts. And law enforcement agencies are uploading sensitive photos to the servers of a company whose ability to protect its data is still untested.
Lawsuit alleges Amazon’s Alexa violates children’s privacy. An international law firm has filed a federal lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the company’s virtual assistant product violated privacy laws in eight states by making permanent recordings of children’s voices without their consent.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of all those who lived in a home with an operating Alexa device—which they didn’t set up—while a minor in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. The suit says Amazon violated Massachusetts’ wiretap statute and similar laws in the other states by creating “persistent recordings” of the lead plaintiff (identified as C.O.) and intentionally intercepting and using oral communications without the consent of the parties.
“It takes no great leap of imagination to be concerned that Amazon is developing voiceprints for millions of children that could allow the company (and potentially governments) to track a child’s use of Alexa-enabled devices in multiple locations and match those uses with a vast level of detail about the child’s life, ranging from private questions they have asked Alexa to the products they have used in their home,” the suit says.
Working with robots isn’t easy. Robots working side-by-side with warehouse employees at companies like Amazon are meant to “extend human capability,” shifting people to what they are best at—problem-solving, common sense and thinking on their feet—while the machines take on the most mundane and physically strenuous tasks.
However, the robots also create new forms of stress and strain in the form of employee injuries and the unease of working in close quarters with half-ton, mobile devices that direct themselves.
As one Amazon employee noted: “When you’re out there, and you can hear them moving around, but you can’t see them, it’s like, ‘Where are they going to come from?’ It’s a little nerve-racking at first.”
Amazon now has more than 200,000 robotic vehicles it calls “drives” that are moving goods through its delivery-fulfillment centers around the U.S. And many of its rivals are adding their own robots in order to speed up productivity and bring down costs.