The Ever photo app turned users’ private snaps into AI facial recognition fodder

A photo storage application that offers users "unlimited, free, private backups of all the memories of their lives" has been secretly using the client's private snapshots to train and sell facial recognition software.

As detailed in a report from NBC News the startup was launched as a simple cloud storage business in 2013, but it became a supplier of facial recognition technology in 2017 after being account that a photo application "I will not be a large-scale business."

However, customers were not informed of this change, or how their photos and videos are being used.

The company's original 2,500 word privacy policy stated that facial recognition helped to "organize" users' files, allowing them to group images of the same individual. The only recognition that these data were also being used to train AI was contained in a single cryptic line: "Your files can be used to help improve and train our products and these technologies."

After the company was contacted by NBC News in April updated this privacy policy, adding a sentence to explain that these "products" include "facial recognition offers for companies." But experts say that the company clearly violates the privacy of users by not informing them how they are using personal data.

"They are commercially exploiting the image of the people in the photos to train a product sold to the military and law enforcement," said New York University law professor Jason Schultz, NBC News . "The idea that users have given real consent of any kind is ridiculous."

Ever in itself has not sold its software to the army or the police (its clients include SoftBank Robotics, maker of the Pepper robot) and points out that it never shows users' personal data.

But his pivot shows how facial recognition systems are often trained by photos taken from an unsuspecting public. Academics and private companies use huge databases of millions of photos, such as MegaFace and Faces in the Wild, to train AI facial recognition. They often contain photos of public websites, such as Flickr.

On Ever's website for its facial recognition systems, the company boasts of having one of the "largest and most diverse patented data sets in the world", with more than 13 billion images and videos. He says that his software is used for "surveillance and monitoring, physical access control and digital authentication", and can do more than just recognize people and also categorize their emotions, ethnicity and age, according to their image.

When asked by NBC News if the company had done enough to inform users about the use of their data, Doug Aley, CEO of Ever, said he thought that.

"I think our privacy policy and the terms of service are very clear and well articulated," Aley said. "They do not use any legal information."

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