Facial Recognition Tech: A friend or a foe?

Understanding the Fight Against Facial Recognition

The growth of Clearview AI as a startup focusing on facial recognition is momentous. That could be largely linked to their alliance with law enforcement agents that are using the platform widely. While there exists little to no regulation around how this kind of tech is used, that has not stopped business from booming for all the parties involved.

There are outcries against the privacy invasion that comes in the way of facial recognition too. Recently, a hack of the company brought fresh debates to the fore about how safe facial data can be when with keepers like that – and how such data will also be used.


Facial Recognition Isn’t Your Friend

Surveillance has always been a touchy subject. So that the state does not go beyond reasonable means in surveilling an individual, certain laws and regulations were made. This requires that even law enforcement agents obtain permission from the judiciary arm of government before they can put anyone under surveillance.

Even at that, this surveillance has to be proportionate.

None of such moves has been placed around facial recognition. Not on a large scale, at least.

Before the Clearview AI hack was reported, the company admitted to having more than 3 billion faces on record. That is more than a third of everyone on the planet as of this moment. Seeing as many countries have not even heard of the company, that is shocking that they would have that many faces on file.

Official statements from the company claim that it mines data from social media networks and other open-source platforms for its database. In other words, they can collect picture you posted on the internet to populate a database of facial recognition technology. The important part of this business is remembering that all of this is done without your giving them any express permission to take such advantages of your image rights.

Social media platforms like YouTube, Google, and Facebook have already reached out to this company with a cease and desist. That is a laudable move to protect users, but we are just seeing one side of a bad coin. Facebook itself runs in-house facial recognition software which you have to manually turn off.

Recalling how many scandals Facebook has gotten into in the previous decade alone, we do not know if they would honor any privacy requests from the users. Thus, those pictures you removed facial recognition access from could still be in the system for all that we know.

If these systems were as good as they are claimed to be, we might not have much against them. Instead, there is a huge bias against races and women. This is not a basic fault of the technology itself but how it was trained. After all, it can only adapt to the models that it has been trained with, of which there is a gross under-representation of the negatively affected population density.

Such can lead to cases of false positives or negatives. Depending on how you look at it and the prevalent situation, it is never good news.


Where Do We Go from Here?

San Francisco has banned the widespread use of technology in the city. This is a huge move 

from the city that considers itself one of the biggest, if not the biggest, concentrated tech hub in the world. If they cannot make such brazen moves to defend how tech is used, they might as well be a serious part of the problem in the tech space.

Other states and cities are working on similar moves, but they are not working fast enough.

 The need for a widespread ban right now is not for the hate of facial tech systems but the lack of a regulatory framework within which it works. If we do not have that, it is just a matter of time before everyone has a facial recognition system of their own and takes stalking to a whole new level.

That is not something we are willing to take. Till things improve, the fight against facial recognition will remain.

WhatsApp Spyware

Election is the most important part of any democratic country like us where we the people have the right to elect our government which will safeguard our interests and nation. That is why Democracy is defined as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
You might have been excited about voting in 2019 General elections which took place from April 11 to May 23 earlier this year and even had WhatsApp conversations with your friends, peers about it but little did you know that your WhatsApp account would be snooped by Pegasus.

What is Pegasus?
Pegasus is a Spyware developed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israel based security company which can be installed in all commonly used Smartphone operating system’s which include iOS, Android, Microsoft based Windows Phone and Samsung’s Tizen.
The Facebook based application has closely worked with Citizen Labs, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada volunteered to identify cases where suspected targets of this attack. Citizen Labs found that the Pegasus had used other ways in the past to infiltrate a target’s device, like getting the target to click on a link using social engineering or using fake package notifications to install the Spyware. The code is transmitted by calling the target phone on WhatsApp. The code enters the phone even if the call is not answered.

So how does it work?
In early May 2019, WhatsApp discovered a Buffer Overflow Vulnerability (CVE-2019-3568) that allowed a Spyware to be installed on user’s phone via the app’s phone call function.The Vulnerability existed in its VOIP Stack which allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of RTCP packets sent to a target phone number which simply means the hacker can hijack the users WhatsApp application, execute malicious code, eavesdrops on victim’s calls, turns on the microphone and camera, accesses photos, contacts list, calendar events and eventually compromise victim’s device.
According to WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart, “at least 100 human rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society across the world” have been the victims of this malicious attack.

Versions affected
WhatsApp for Android prior to 2.19. 134
WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v2.19.44
WhatsApp for iOS prior to v2.19.51
WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.19.51
WhatsApp for Windows Phone prior to v2.18.348
WhatsApp for Tizen prior to v2.18.15

What should you do?
– Always use a trustworthy antivirus application on your phone and update it on regular basis
– Make sure you download applications from their official website or from an official store such as Google Play for Android.
– Do not click on links received in SMS on your phone from unknown numbers.
– Open those emails only if you are positive about the Source.
– Regularly backup your critical data stored on your phone
– Make sure you download applications of a reliable app developer. Also check the user ratings and reviews of the app.

Biren Parekh