IBM used people's photos without consent for facial recognition programme

Joanna Estrada
March 15, 2019

In an article titled "Facial Recognition's "Dirty Little Secret": Millions of Online Photos Scraped Without Consent", NBC News discusses the moral issue surrounding facial recognition and the use of machine learning to analyze individuals faces in order to further develop these facial recognition systems.

The company extracted almost one million photos from a dataset of Flickr images originally compiled by Yahoo.

The photos stored in the collection were kept under the Creative Commons license, which with a few limitations allows for such pics to be re-used willy-nilly. "None of the people I photographed had any idea their images were being used in this way", Greg Peverill-Conti told NBC.

However, one major ethical issue surrounding the programming of facial recognition is that the images used to help the machine learning algorithm "learn" human faces are often taken from publicly available photos.

Despite IBM's assurances that Flickr users can opt out of the database, NBC News discovered that it's nearly impossible to get photos removed. That's a shitty way to handle user data for research.

Peverill-Conti had a total of 700 images, originally uploaded to Flickr, used in the data set, and said, "it seems a little sketchy that IBM can use these pictures without saying anything to anybody".

IBM said in a statement that it had taken great care to comply with privacy principles. That makes it easy if you happen across a photo you'd like removed, but it doesn't help in finding photos.

The photos in IBM's dataset also do not include usernames or subject names, which would make it hard for people to identify people in photos.

"Individuals can opt out of this dataset".

IBM's dataset drew upon a huge collection of around 100 million Creative Commons-licensed images, referred to as the YFCC-100M dataset and released by Flickr's former owner, Yahoo, for research purposes - there are many CC image databases used for academic research into facial recognition, or fun comparison projects.

The report comes as the ethical implications of AI and facial recognition are increasingly a subject of public debate, one that biometrics providers must heed and participate in, or risk the long-term viability of the industry.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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