May 9, 2019

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Breaking: President Trump will formally nominate acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to permanently head up the Pentagon.

1 big thing: The facial recognition face-off

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, writes Axios' Shane Savitsky.

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.

Bonus: Stat du jour
Volkswagen's electric ID. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images

In Berlin, Volkswagen unveiled its new all-electric hatchback, priced at $33,600. Pre-orders passed 10,000 cars in 24 hours, reports CNBC:

  • The Golf-sized ID.3 got its name "because Volkswagen views the model as the third major evolution in the firm's history, after the Golf and Beetle."
2. What you missed
  1. The U.S. seized a North Korean cargo vessel for allegedly transporting and selling coal in violation of international sanctions. Details.
  2. President Trump told reporters that he was "very surprised" that his son, Donald Trump Jr., was subpoenaed by Senate Intel. Watch the video.
  3. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a bill to prevent credit card interest rates from rising above 15%. Go deeper.
  4. Alabama's Senate delayed a vote on what would be the strictest abortion law in the country after a heated disagreement between lawmakers. Details.
  5. Pope Francis issued a sweeping new Vatican law that requires all priests and nuns worldwide to report sexual abuse to church authorities. Go deeper.
3. 1 fun thing

Screenshot via YouTube

Ryan Reynolds "appeared to have found a pirated pre-release copy of 'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' — and then made the ill-advised move to share it with his 13 million-plus fans on Twitter," writes Variety.

  • But he "hadn’t blundered into facilitating a massive piracy scheme three days before ['Detective Pikachu's] theatrical release."
  • "The 'pirated' copy of the movie on YouTube includes 60 seconds of what looks like the actual opening sequence of 'Detective Pikachu' — followed by 102 minutes of Pikachu aerobicizing on a dance floor."

Gotta watch it all.

Mike Allen