business news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  The New York Times has a story about a facial recognition app, Clearview AI, described as "a breakthrough facial recognition system that was in use by hundreds of law enforcement agencies."

Following publicity that that the app got earlier this year when the Times wrote about its use by the public sector, "the company quickly faced a backlash on multiple fronts. Facebook, Google and other tech giants sent cease-and-desist letters. Lawsuits were filed in Illinois and Virginia, and the attorney general of New Jersey issued a moratorium against the app in that state.

"In response to the criticism, Clearview published a 'code of conduct,' emphasizing in a blog post that its technology was 'available only for law enforcement agencies and select security professionals to use as an investigative tool'."

But now the Times writes about  "multiple individuals with active access to Clearview’s technology who are not law enforcement officials. And for more than a year before the company became the subject of public scrutiny, the app had been freely used in the wild by the company’s investors, clients and friends.

"Those with Clearview logins used facial recognition at parties, on dates and at business gatherings, giving demonstrations of its power for fun or using it to identify people whose names they didn’t know or couldn’t recall."

One such person - John Catsimatidis, owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain, which had used it to identify shoplifters.

However, the Times writes, it wasn't just about people stealing from the stores.  The story tells how, about 18 months ago, Catsimatidis "was having dinner at Cipriani, an upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, when his daughter, Andrea, walked in. She was on a date with a man Mr. Catsimatidis didn’t recognize.

"After the couple sat down at another table, Mr. Catsimatidis asked a waiter to go over and take a photo.

"Mr. Catsimatidis then uploaded the picture to a facial recognition app, Clearview AI, on his phone. The start-up behind the app has a database of billions of photos, scraped from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Within seconds, Mr. Catsimatidis was viewing a collection of photos of the mystery man, along with the web addresses where they appeared: His daughter’s date was a venture capitalist from San Francisco."

Gosh, I'm so relieved that his daughter was dating someone who wasn't after Catsimatidis' billions.  Maybe it is because I don't have billions at risk … but I think that I were having dinner at a restaurant and one of my kids walked in with a date, I'd so something really radical - I'd go over to their table, say hi, engage in some conversation, and then send over a bottle of wine.  And then, if I wanted to know more about the date's identity, I'd ask my kid.

This may be facial recognition technology, but it also allows us to recognize something else about the people who use it and abuse it.