On Monday, a newly-released report alleged that at least one surveillance company is harvesting Facebook data to create a massive facial recognition database.
The revelation comes just one week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to talk about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Forbes reports that for the last several years, a secretive surveillance company founded by an ex-Israeli intelligence officer has been using Facebook, YouTube, and other websites to compile an extensive facial recognition database. Forbes notes:
That database forms the core of a facial recognition service called Face-Int, now owned by Israeli vendor Verint after it snapped up the product’s creator, little-known surveillance company Terrogence, in 2017. Both Verint and Terrogence have long been vendors for the U.S. government, providing bleeding-edge spy tech to the NSA, the U.S. Navy and countless other intelligence and security agencies.
According to Terrogence’s website, the company has existed for nearly a decade and has “yielded and continue to yield a massive and growing database of annotated faces and face data, highly suitable for advanced biometric security applications.”
The technology, Face-Int™, allows Terrogence the ability to actively monitor and collect “online profiles and facial images of terrorists, criminals and other individuals believed to pose a threat to aviation security, immigration and national security.”
Privacy activists are concerned that building a facial recognition database based on data from social media platforms could lead to abuse from tech giants, the government, and hackers. An example of the type of situation that many fear is what China is doing with facial recognition. Fast Company reports:
Traffic authorities in the Chinese city of Shenzhen have teamed up with an AI firm named Intellifusion to carry out the rather dystopian policing…using Intellifusion software and cameras to identify passing jaywalkers and project their faces and identifying information on large screens located near intersections for all to see, but now Intellifusion is taking its surveillance a step further. The company is partnering with social media platforms including WeChat and Sina Weibo and local mobile phone carriers so it can text jaywalkers the second they offend.