Archive for February 14, 2020

Toronto Cops Admit To Using Controversial Clearview AI Software… Why Everyone Needs To Care About This

Posted in Commentary with tags , on February 14, 2020 by itnerd

Global News is reporting that the Toronto Police Service was using Clearview AI. This is  is a controversial facial recognition tool. It uses images scraped from social media and other websites to cross-reference uploaded images of people. The system reportedly has three billion photos on its database. This apparently had been going on for months before being ordered to stop by the chief of police in Toronto. Which of course implies that this was some sort of “black ops” effort done behind the chief’s back. Which in itself is a problem. On top of that, the cops have requested the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review Clearview AI. Finally, this report contradicts what the police force has said in the past. Which is that it does use facial recognition software. But not software from Clearview AI.

Now the fact that the Toronto Police Service was using this tool isn’t a surprise. But it is a huge problem. The New York Times has pointed out the dangers of software like this:

Facial recognition technology has always been controversial. It makes people nervous about Big Brother. It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color. And some facial recognition products used by the police — including Clearview’s — haven’t been vetted by independent experts.

Now that’s a huge problem. But the other problem with Clearview AI is that it basically scrapes its database of photos from social media. Often violating the terms of service of the social media platforms that it takes its photos from. Think about that for a second. Your photos have possibly been uploaded to this system without your permission. Regardless of the fact that your social media profile has been set up to be private or otherwise. That’s a huge problem that you should be a wee bit ticked off about. Which is why social media companies have gone after Clearview AI. In fact, here’s a list of what the company has been caught doing:

  • The company reportedly lifted pictures from Twitter, Facebook, Venmo and millions of other websites over the past few years. Twitter recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clearview AI after the company got caught claiming that the company’s actions violated Twitter’s policies and demanding that Clearview AI stop lifting images from its platform immediately.
  • Google and YouTube made similar claims in a cease-and-desist letter that they served up to Clearview AI.

But based on this, I don’t think that the company cares about what social media companies think of them scraping their platforms for photos. This is a CBS News interview with Clearview CEO, Hoan Ton-That who clearly thinks, or wants you to think that he is doing nothing wrong:

Clearly, he has a Travis Kalanic attitude to life. Which is “I’m going to do what I want so screw you and the horse you rode in on if you have a problem with that.” But creating a massive database of pictures so that law enforcement can use it anyway the wish is problematic. And what happens if someone is misidentified by this system? It may take years, if it is even possible to clear that person’s name from any association with a crime. And just think what would happen if a law enforcement agency, or worse yet a government wanted to go after a person or a group via this piece of software. Just thinking about it sends chills down my spine as it sounds like something out of 1984.

That’s why we all should have a problem with what the Toronto Police Service was doing with this tool. It sends society down a very dangerous path that there may be no way back from. Thus they need to be held to account for using this tool. But we should also be bothered by Clearview AI who has the vibe of Uber. But with something that is far more dangerous. People need to make sure that politicians and those in positions to potentially use a piece of software like this know that this is unacceptable. I am all for any tool, software or otherwise that can help to catch the bad guys and put them in jail. But violating people’s privacy on a massive scale to do it isn’t something that should exist in a free and democratic society. At least I think so. And if you value being in a free and democratic society, so should you.




Why Is TELUS Announcing A 5G Partnership With Huawei?

Posted in Commentary with tags on February 14, 2020 by itnerd

Yesterday, the news dropped that TELUS was announcing that they were going to build their 5G network in partnership with Huawei. The same Huawei that the US hates and wants everyone else to dump. It’s also the same Huawei that the Canadian government is doing a security review of. Here’s the key point from yesterday’s news:

[Doug] French [CFO – TELUS] said that the plan right now is to use Huawei gear in the radio access network (RAN) — basically, the antennas that send wireless signals to the phones — but it will not be the backbone of the Telus 5G network for now.

“In the RAN network, we will be launching a 5G network with Huawei,” French said.

Telus wouldn’t give an exact date on when they will roll out their 5G, but French said it will be coming “shortly.”

This is kind of similar to what the English are doing. Much to the ire of the US. But the real question is, why would TELUS poke the stick in the metaphorical cage by making this announcement? Well, I have some thoughts on that:

  1. This basically forces the Canadian government to make a call on Huawei. Something that they have been reluctant to do because they are working to extradite Meng Wanzhou who is the CFO of Huawei to the US to stand trial over Iran sanctions violations among other things. And in retaliation the Chinese government is holding two Canadians to force the Canadian government to release her. Now with the announcement made by TELUS, the option of waiting for that situation to be resolved is off the table. And the Canadian government has to make a call sooner rather than later.
  2. TELUS couldn’t afford to wait for a decision to be made as Rogers has already announced their 5G plans with Ericsson being their supplier. And Bell has made their announcement with Nokia being their supplier. Thus TELUS might have felt that they had no choice to make an announcement and see what happened next.
  3. TELUS is already a big Huawei customer as their 4G network has a lot of their gear in it. So they might have felt that they had no choice to use their 5G gear so that interoperability between 5G and 4G networks was seamless. Plus going with another vendor at this point would likely cause TELUS a lot of headaches and cost TELUS a lot of cash.

Here’s the risk for TELUS. Besides the fact that the Canadian government decideing to ban Huawei from selling anyone 5G gear, which would pretty much screw over TELUS. There’s the consumer backlash:

For clarity, the two Michael’s that are referred to in this tweet are Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor who are being held by the Chinese government in retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou who is the CFO of Huawei.

The fact is that TELUS has done a lot over the last few years to differentiate themselves from Rogers and Bell in very positive ways. And their network is insanely fast relative to the other two members of the big three. But they risk burning all of that to the ground via this decision. But, if you look at it another way, they are third place and they must figure that they have nothing to lose by going down this road.

So what do I think?

I think it would be wise for TELUS to rethink this. According to a recent Angus Reid Institute study. 56 percent of Canadians believe that Huawei should be banned from participating in the deployment of 5G. That’s not trivial. Neither is the fact that about 34 percent would support a limited arrangement similar to the one the U.K. What that says to me is that most Canadians have some sort of problem with Huawei. Thus alienating most of your potential customer base because you want to do business with Huawei isn’t a good idea. Which means that they need in my opinion to take a step back and consider the implications of doing business with Huawei. To me, it doesn’t really seem to be a good idea as the risk level on multiple fronts is way too high.