Do you feel like you’re constantly being watched? Or that your personal information might be stolen? Well, you are right!
We all download apps and agree to the terms and conditions without reading them. However, we are not aware of what we are getting ourselves into. By blindly checking the “I agree” box, we are potentially allowing applications to take our personal information, and use or sell it. Hoan Ton-That of Clearview Al, for example, has been stockpiling our photos for his business. According to CNN Business, “The company claims to have scraped more than 3 billion photos from the internet from popular social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.” Clearview Al first came to public attention through a New York Times front-page investigation that revealed the company has been working with law enforcement to match unknown faces to online images. Many are skeptical about Clearview Al and some entities such as Twitter, Google, and Facebook have issued cease-and-desist letters. The state of New Jersey issued a ban against this practice.
Ton-That is quite passionate about the idea of collecting people’s images. He explains that technology is quite beneficial to assist with finding missing children and solving crimes. He claims that he is honored to build this “great American company” with “the best of intentions.”
The ethical dilemma posed by Clearview Al is that all the information in the database was once in the public domain, but some of this information is no longer public. In other words, Clearview Al may have an Instagram post that you deleted years ago. In an effort to retain control over their own images, users often make their accounts private or delete them from platforms, however, the company still retains the photos that they gathered prior to the new settings. Hence, the company can potentially have more photos of you than you have on your own phone!
Even more controversial is the fact that the photos are sold to law enforcement agencies paid for with taxpayer dollars. For instance, the Chicago Police Department paid $50,000 for the database. To date, more than 600 agencies in the US and Canada have access to it. However, access to the images is not available to the public online
The act of downloading and storing these images is against many of the policies of social media platforms. Thus, tech giants such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook sent cease-and-desist letters to the company. Nevertheless, it would be impossible for Clearview Al to comply with the cease-and-desist letters. Simply, once photos are downloaded, they can be copied, stored, and distributed without control.
Today, the database is most widely used by law enforcement agencies in the US. However, Clearview Al also has customers including Macys, Madison Square Garden, Walmart, Bank of America, AT&T, prestigious universities, and more. Hence, you are essentially being monitored everywhere you go.
With the growing presence of technology in our lives, we must be aware of what we are getting ourselves into. So, next time you dowload a new app, make sure to skim the terms and conditions before blindly clicking “I agree.” You never know what type of information you may be giving away.