Boiling Frogs

surveillance/spectacle

There is an urban legend, a variation of an older fairy tale, which explains how to boil a living frog. As the legend says, if you put a frog into a pot of hot water, it will immediately feel the heat and out of instinct will jump out and run away. But if you put it in lukewarm water, it will like it and if you gradually turn up the heat to the boiling point, it will not feel the threat until it is too late…

In a recent article (dated 20/1) entitled “the secretive company that might end privacy as we know it”, the New York Times brought to light the activity of a relatively obscure start-up company named Clearview AI, specializing in face recognition technology. Its founder Hoan-Ton That, born in 1989, is of australian birth who started his career with the creation of phishing apps (viral programs that steal users’ personal information) up until the moment he was caught by law enforcement, but without being sent to court… Despite his detection, and after receiving a green light from high up, his next step was to set up a site that did exactly that: it stripped them of personal information. And eventually he became more known when he set up an app with which you could process a picture and “wear” on the heads a Trump style hairstyle. From the app’s appeal, it seemed that Hoan-Ton That enjoyed an excellent relationship with many of the most prominent figures of the american alt-right scene. He was known to the police, free and well connected… which means: ideal requirements!

The great leap in his career came when he set up Clearview AI and filed a patent for an electronic tool of face recognition. You upload a face image and the app finds all the images (the same person) uploaded on the internet, together with electronic information where uploaded. The program can work together with smart glasses, meaning that a police officer only has to look at you face to face, and will know your digital life at once. This system works thanks to a vast database with over 3 billion photos, all gathered from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and thousand other sites, regardless of whether they are deleted or not by the users. It is a (tested and effective) cutting-edge technology that may surpass even the equivalent of what Google or Facebook do. Clearview AI has already offered its app to more than 600 police agencies in the u.s., while it has recently started to sell its technology to private companies and, certainly, there is no way of knowing how many and which secret agencies are its clients.

Inside the digital pots, temperature is rising carefully and steadily…

bytes & genes | cyborg #17 – 02/2020