Until January of this year, very few of us were aware of Clearview AI, a company that has gathered billions of publicly available images from millions of websites to build a facial image search engine app.
Clearview claim that more than six hundred law enforcement agencies have utilized its technology in the last year. News that police officers are able to search a plethora of images uploaded to the most popular social media platforms has unsurprisingly caused an outcry from officials, activists, and civil libertarians.
The New York Times published a report that raised the company’s profile and pushed them to the forefront of a nationwide privacy discussion. Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That claims that America’s First Amendment allows them to take publically available images, however some lawyers disagree.
Big Tech giants like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have present Clearview with cease-and-desist letters. Clearview, who is obviously wary of the possible backlash to news of its technology, hired former solicitor general Paul Clement to support its legal arguments.
The New York Times did not publish a list of agencies who use the app, although a leaked list of Clearview clients revealed that the majority are private companies such as Macy’s as well as local police departments including, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York State Police. Their list of credentialed users go on to include agents from the FBI and Border-Patrol officers. If a police officer were susceptible to any misconduct then such as application would be a dangerous tool and allow them to identify protestors, journalists or anyone engaged in legal activity that they chose to take issue with.
It is becoming increasingly common, internationally, for police to use surveillance technology without letting the public know. Facial recognition is even more concerning than aerial surveillance and with a technology such as Clearview, anyone with uploaded photos on social media is now identifiable to hundreds of law enforcement agencies. Even those who have chosen to opt out of social media are able to be identified by Clearview. If someone previously took a picture of you and posted it on their page – and you don’t even have social media – you could end up being among the billions of images scraped by Clearview.
Defenders of the application have commented that such technology has been used to identify children who have suffered abuse. Law enforcement agencies have noted that the technology has been used to investigate a variety of offences encompassing murder, theft and fraud.
However, the fact that technology is able to investigate crimes and secure convictions is not reason enough for its unregulated use. Wiretapping is often an extremely valuable method for gathering the evidence of serious crimes, however, police are unable to use this technology without having an order initially approved by a judge.
Liberal societies require and enable citizens and residents to have private areas, and civil liberties protections to ensure the sanctity of such spaces even if crimes are committed outside the capabilities of surveillance technology.
It’s necessary to have a more liberal approach to facial recognition, without being technophobic. It is important to have more respect and awareness of civil liberties and ensure that law enforcement only uses data that is connected to people with previous warrants for serious crimes. The use of real-time identification should also be banned and require officials to be more transparent about the technology they wish to use.
It would be wrong to portray facial recognition as a technology that inevitably leads to civil liberty abuses. Like any other aspects of technology, it can be used for good and ill. Yet the potential for applications such as Clearview to be misused when facial recognition is wholly unregulated, should prompt lawmakers to stop law enforcement officers from using Clearview’s application.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Community Control over Police Surveillance campaign has resulted in surveillance transparency bills passing across the country. A number of cities which include San Francisco and Cambridge in Massachusetts, have passed bans on the government use of facial recognition. Technology may be moving faster than the law, but that’s not a reason for officials to resign themselves to an inevitable world where the abolition of privacy is the price of a social life.
Lawmakers call YouTube Kids a ‘wasteland of vapid’ content
A House subcommittee is investigating YouTube Kids, saying the Google-owned video service feeds children inappropriate material in “a wasteland of vapid, consumerist content” so it can serve them ads.
The inquiry comes despite Google agreeing to pay $170 million in 2019 to settle allegations that YouTube collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.
In a letter sent Tuesday to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the U.S. House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on economic and consumer policy said YouTube does not do enough to protect kids from material that could harm them. Instead it relies on artificial intelligence and creators’ self-regulation to decide what videos make it on to the platform, according to the letter from the committee’s chairman, Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.
And despite changes in the wake of the 2019 settlement, the letter notes, YouTube Kids still shows ads to children. But instead of basing it on kids’ online activity, it now targets it based on the videos they are watching.
YouTube said it has sought to provide kids and families with protections and controls enabling them to view age-appropriate content. It also emphasized that the 2019 settlement was over the regular YouTube platform, not the kids version.
“We’ve made significant investments in the YouTube Kids app to make it safer and to serve more educational and enriching content for kids, based on principles developed with experts and parents,” the company said.
The congressional investigation comes a year into the pandemic that has shuttered schools and left parents who are working from home increasingly reliant on services such as YouTube to keep kids occupied. This has led to a rethinking of “screen time” rules and guilt over the amount of time kids spend in front of screens, with some experts recommending that parents focus on quality, not quantity.
But lawmakers say YouTube Kids is anything but quality.
“YouTube Kids spends no time or effort determining the appropriateness of content before it becomes available for children to watch,” the letter says. “YouTube Kids allows content creators to self-regulate. YouTube only asks that they consider factors including the subject matter of the video, whether the video has an emphasis on kids characters, themes, toys or games, and more.”
Kids under 13 are protected by a 1998 federal law that requires parental consent before companies can collect and share their personal information.
Under the 2019 settlement, Google agreed to work with video creators to label material aimed at kids. It said it would limit data collection when users view such videos, regardless of their age.
But lawmakers say even after the settlement, YouTube Kids, which launched in 2015, continued to exploit loopholes and advertise to children. While it does not target ads based on viewer interests the way the main YouTube service does, it tracks information about what kids are watching in order to recommend videos. It also collects personally identifying device information.
There are also other, sneaky ways ads are reaching children. A “high volume” of kids’ videos, the letter says, smuggle hidden marketing and advertising with product placements by “children’s influencers,” who are often children themselves.
“YouTube does not appear to be trying to prevent such problematic marketing,” the letter says. The House research team found that only 4% of videos it looked at had a “high educational value” offering developmentally appropriate material.
The kids app has helped turn YouTube into an increasingly more attractive outlet for the advertising sales that generate most of the profits for Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet, which is based in Mountain View, California.
YouTube brought in nearly $20 billion in ad revenue last year, more than doubling from its total just three years ago. The video site now accounts for about 13% of Google’s total ad sales, up from slightly more than 8% in 2017.
The House subcommittee is recommending YouTube turn off advertisements completely for kids aged 7 and under. It also asks that it give parents the ability to turn off the “autoplay” feature, which is not currently possible (though parents are able to set a timer to limit their kids’ video watching).
The lawmakers are asking YouTube to provide them with information on YouTube Kids’ top videos, channels and revenue information, as well as average time spent and number of videos watched, per user, among other information.
By BARBARA ORTUTAY.
Lawmakers press Big Tech CEOs on speech responsibility
The CEOs of tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google faced a grilling in Congress Thursday as lawmakers tried to draw them into acknowledging their companies’ roles in fueling the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and rising COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.
In a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, lawmakers pounded Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, which owns YouTube; and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey over their content policies, use of consumers’ data and children’s media use.
Republicans raised long-running conservative grievances, unproven, that the platforms are biased against conservative viewpoints and censor material based on political or religious viewpoints.
There is increasing support in Congress for legislation to rein in Big Tech companies.
“The time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the committee’s chairman.
That legislative momentum, plus the social environment of political polarization, hate speech and violence against minorities, was reflected in panel members’ impatience as they questioned the three executives. Several lawmakers demanded yes-or-no answers and repeatedly cut the executives off.
“We always feel some sense of responsibility,” Pichai said. Zuckerberg used the word “nuanced” several times to insist that the issues can’t be boiled down. “Any system can make mistakes” in moderating harmful material, he said.
Shortly after the hearing began, it became clear that most of the lawmakers had already made up their minds that the big technology companies need to be regulated more rigorously to rein in their sway over what people read and watch online.
In a round of questioning that served as both political theater and a public flogging, lawmakers called out the CEOs for creating platforms that enabled the spread of damaging misinformation about last year’s U.S. presidential election and the current COVID-19 vaccine, all in a relentless pursuit of profit and higher stock prices.
Lawmakers also blamed the companies’ services for poisoning the minds of children and inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, as well as contributing to the more recent mass murders in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado.
The three CEOs staunchly defended their companies’ efforts to weed out the increasingly toxic content posted and circulated on services used by billions of people, while noting their efforts to balance freedom of speech.
“I don’t think we should be the arbiters of truth and I don’t think the government should be either,” Dorsey said.
Democrats are laying responsibility on the social media platforms for disseminating false information on the November election and the “Stop the Steal” voting fraud claims fueled by former President Donald Trump, which led to the deadly attack on the Capitol. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told the CEOs that the riot “started and was nourished on your platforms.”
Support is building for Congress to impose new curbs on legal protections regarding speech posted on their platforms. Both Republicans and Democrats — including President Joe Biden as a candidate — have called for stripping away some of the protections under so-called Section 230 of a 25-year-old telecommunications law that shields internet companies from liability for what users post.
The tech CEOs defended the legal shield under Section 230, saying it has helped make the internet the forum of free expression that it is today. Zuckerberg, however, again urged the lawmakers to update that law to ensure it’s working as intended. He added a specific suggestion: Congress could require internet platforms to gain legal protection only by proving that their systems for identifying illegal content are up to snuff.
Trump enjoyed special treatment on Facebook and Twitter until January, despite spreading misinformation, pushing false claims of voting fraud, and promulgating hate. Facebook banned Trump indefinitely a day after rioters egged on by Trump swarmed the Capitol. Twitter soon followed, permanently disabling Trump’s favored bullhorn.
Facebook hasn’t yet decided whether it will banish the former president permanently. The company punted that decision to its quasi-independent Oversight Board — sort of a Supreme Court of Facebook enforcement — which is expected to rule on the matter next month.
Researchers say there’s no evidence that the social media giants are biased against conservative news, posts or other material, or that they favor one side of political debate over another.
Democrats, meanwhile, are largely focused on hate speech and incitement that can spawn real-world violence. An outside report issued this week found that Facebook has allowed groups — many tied to QAnon, boogaloo and militia movements — to extol violence during the 2020 election and in the weeks leading up to the deadly riots on the Capitol.
With the tone and tenor of Thursday’s hearing set early in the hearing, many internet and Twitter users seemed more interested in Dorsey’s fresh buzz cut and trimmed bread. His newly groomed appearance captured immediate attention because it was a stark contrast to his scraggly beard that drew comparisons to Rasputin in last year’s remote appearances before Congress.
Another point of curiosity: a mysterious clock in Dorsey’s kitchen that displayed sets of figures that seemed to be randomly changing in a way that made it clear it had nothing to do with the time of day. The tech blog Gizmodo eventually revealed the device was a “BlockClock” that shows the latest prices of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum.
WASHINGTON (AP) — By MARCY GORDON and BARBARA ORTUTAY
Betting sites offer software blocks for compulsive gamblers
Some sports betting companies are offering tools that allow compulsive gamblers to block themselves from most online sites.
Unibet last week announced it was making software from U.K.-based Gamban available to customers in the U.S. The tools allow customers to in effect ban themselves from gambling sites across multiple devices.
On Wednesday, FanDuel did so, as well. The software blocks thousands of licensed and unlicensed gambling sites and is constantly updated to add new ones as they appear.
“Educating customers about the importance of gambling responsibly and within limits is a business imperative and ethically the right thing to do,” said Carolyn Renzin, chief risk and compliance officer with FanDuel Group. “Offering Gamban’s software to those customers signaling they need help adds another layer of protection for our customers, our program, and to the industry.”
“This is a massive moment for the industry and one we’ve been pushing to achieve since the launch of Gamban,” added Jack Symons, Gamban’s co-founder. “As the largest real-money gaming provider in the United States, FanDuel Group is making a statement of intent and throwing down the gauntlet to operators across the industry to offer self-exclusion support for their vulnerable customers.”
Most licensed sports betting and online casino companies already offer ways for compulsive gamblers to either pause or halt their behavior, including “cool-down” periods in which customers can have their accounts suspended for a length of time.
And states including New Jersey offer state-administered self-exclusion lists where gamblers can prohibit themselves from gambling for differing periods, or permanently. While they are on the list, casinos and sports books cannot accept bets from them or send them marketing materials enticing them to gamble.
Unibet’s parent company, Kindred Group said last week that its provision of blocking software to its customers is “an important step for the industry.”
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, praised the companies’ moves.
“We strongly support the ability of gamblers to self-exclude through both the operator and on their own personal devices,” he said. “Self-exclusion is one part of what should be a comprehensive network of problem gambling prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, research and recovery services in every state.”
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — By WAYNE PARRY
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