Some major Western companies may be using controversial facial recognition technology from Russia’s NTech Lab, according to a new report from Business Insider.
NTech Lab’s FindFace was designed to match faces against social media accounts, and while it has more general facial recognition capabilities, this utility appears to have helped to make the platform popular among security and law enforcement capabilities.
In that sense, it’s similar to the facial recognition platform developed by the notorious American startup Clearview AI, and controversial for similar reasons. It is designed to identify individuals regardless of privacy rights, and can be used to considerably extend the surveillance capabilities of state authorities.
Now, Insider claims to have seen a database of companies that have obtained a license to use NTech Lab’s FindFace, shared by an anonymous source. And while most of the users in the database are law enforcement and military agencies, such as the Royal Thai Army and Interpol, the list also features major US companies including Intel, Dell, and Philip Morris.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the companies are active users. Responding to inquiries from Insider, a Philip Morris spokesperson explained that the cigarette company trialed NTech Lab’s biometric age estimation technology, but ultimately selected another vendor. CasinoSoft and MutualLink, also named in the database, both confirmed that they, too, had trialed the technology but did not proceed beyond the testing phase.
Intel denied that it had ever used FindFace, as did Nokia. Bosch, Honeywell, and SpaceX did not respond to Insider’s inquiries about their alleged use of the technology.
For its part, NTech Lab told Insider that confirmed that the leaked list included companies that had previously tested its technology and “a few current clients,” adding that some organizations may have received FindFace licenses gratis.
NTechLab has received considerable investment funding from organizations funded by the Russian government, including the Russian Foundation for Technological Development and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. It is a private company, but its facial recognition technology has been used in an extensive surveillance system in Moscow used by state law enforcement.
Russian authorities recently used the Moscow metro’s surveillance network to conduct mass arrests of pro-democracy activists on the Russia Day holiday. The government has signalled plans to expand its biometric surveillance system to areas close to the border with Ukraine.
August 2, 2022 – by Alex Perala