May 9, 2019

The facial recognition face-off

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facial recognition technology is one of the tech industry's most lucrative new sectors — underpinning everything from social networks to intelligence services — even as it raises questions about its impact on privacy and human rights.

Driving the news: That disconnect is illustrated in a fascinating scoop by NBC News' Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar, who share how photo storage app Ever actually supports the company's AI arm "to train the company’s facial recognition system ... to sell that technology to private companies, law enforcement and the military."

  • "Every time Ever users enable facial recognition on their photos to group together images of the same people, Ever’s facial recognition technology learns from the matches and trains itself. That knowledge, in turn, powers the company’s commercial facial recognition products."
  • The only mention of the facial recognition technology behind Ever was "a brief reference that was added to the privacy policy after NBC News reached out to the company in April."
  • "The shift to facial recognition boosted Ever financially: After it announced its new focus, the company raised $16 million at the end of 2017 — over half of its total investment to date."

The big picture: That trend is occurring around the world, too. Chinese facial recognition company Face++ raised $750 million this week, snagging a valuation of more than $4 billion.

  • It came days after Human Rights Watch reported that Face++ technology is being used by the Chinese government to identify potential terrorists.
  • That data collection has resulted in the detention of an estimated 1 million to 2 million Uighur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region as foreign governments and corporations pretend it isn't happening.

What's next: San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is set to vote next week on a proposed ban on the use of facial recognition technology by the city's government, per Slate.

  • If passed, S.F. would become the first municipality in the U.S. to enact such a ban.
  • Across the bay, Oakland will debate a similar ban later this month.

The bottom line: Don't expect the debate on facial recognition technology to die down anytime soon, especially when Big Tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon — which have the ability to massively profit from it — are already sounding the alarm on its potential abuses.

Go deeper: Facial recognition surveillance faces new calls for legal limits

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Very small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes with protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 900,000 and the global death toll surpassed 45,000 early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 12,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

FBI sees record number of gun background checks amid coronavirus

Guns on display at a store in Manassas, Va. Photo: Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty

The FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported, according to the agency's latest data.

Driving the news: The spike's timing suggests it may be driven at least in part by the coronavirus.