Monday, October 11, 2021

Facial recognition is making police more confident — and possibly more biased — when it comes to identifying people

On Thursday, we got our first look at what Clearview AI’s service would look like to the general public, as regular users uploaded pictures of themselves to the service and asked for facial recognition to be applied to them. On Friday, we got a hands-on look at what the results were—the service was not “neutral” at all, as the company seemed to think it was. “Although the company says its data won’t be made public—resulting in fewer imputations with a similar degree of accuracy—the way the company presents the service masks this fact,” The Washington Post reported.

The results of Clearview’s software seemed to display greater racial disparities, as the Post noted. Its facial recognition can only determine a person’s gender, age, and ethnicity. But facial recognition has also been shown to struggle with gender variation, so the technology’s apparent inability to infer race could also cause it to misinterpret a photo that a person’s hair and skin color, even if those features are consistent with the person’s gender, age, and ethnicity. To the rest of the world, the Post wrote, “the shades of light brown and light black become transparent, making the image appear predominantly black.”

One of Clearview’s other selling points is that all its data is anonymized, so the technology won’t be made available to other people. (It’ll be available to the police, in case you’re curious.) But that doesn’t mean the people using the service are any less worried about it. Cynthia Broadnax, founder of the website Color of Change, worries that facial recognition will have a “destructive effect on black people and other vulnerable populations,” The Post reported.

In fact, the problem is so serious that the legalities of facial recognition have made it tough for even the technology’s most tech-savvy proponents to even have to start talking about it. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that law enforcement needs a warrant to use facial recognition, because it “requires[] officers to identify an individual, sometimes only within a crowd, and gather enough physical evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Post noted.

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