Clearview AI is trying to generate some positive press in Ukraine. The controversial facial recognition provider has revealed that it is giving the country’s Ministry of Defense free access to its identification platform, which includes more than 2 billion images from the VKontakte social media service in Russia.
It is not yet clear how the Ukrainian Defense Ministry plans to use the technology, though Clearview has offered several possibilities. Most notably, facial recognition can be used to identify the dead, and to identify Russian operatives moving within the country. The technology could also help in an information war, since it could potentially distinguish real social media posts and from false ones designed to spread misinformation. Finally, the technology could be used at checkpoints to screen individuals, and to reunite refugees with their family members.
Critics, however, are worried that the technology could backfire if used improperly. On that front, they noted that facial recognition is not always accurate, and that any errors are compounded in a time of conflict. False matches have already led to false arrests in the US, and could lead to civilian deaths in a more tense situation in a combat zone. Using facial recognition to identify the dead is a less risky practice, though there are still some lingering questions about the technology’s accuracy when applied to decomposing remains.
Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That has tried to address those concerns, stressing that the technology should not be used in a manner that violates the Geneva Conventions. He also noted that facial recognition should not be used as the only identification factor when making a decision, and highlighted some of the safeguards that Clearview has tried to put in place on its platform. For example, those with access to the system are supposed to enter a case number before performing a search, to ensure that that search is justified as part of an investigation. Ukrainian operators are being trained to use Clearview’s platform properly.
The Ukrainian government has previously acknowledged that it was fielding offers from several technology providers in the US. Ton-That sent a letter directly to Kyiv to offer his company’s services, and made a point of stating that he has not made any kind of offer to Russia.
At last count, Clearview’s facial recognition database contained roughly 10 billion images. The company markets its services primarily to law enforcement, though several countries have ruled that its data collection practices violate their respective privacy laws.
March 14, 2022 – by Eric Weiss