Face-scrapers say they won’t help Russia in Ukraine, but …
A Georgian facial recognition subscription service was called out by The New York Times in an article about how similar biometric services are being used in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The concern is, of course, that Russia, a human-rights skeptic from its inception, will use the services to seek out people to capture, arrest and kill.
It is a valid concern given video evidence that some soldiers appear to be using civilians for target practice. In one clip on the Times’ site, a lone bicyclist is gunned down by two military vehicles.
Much of the piece focuses on Clearview AI. Just as the company’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That, pushes his narrative that his software is being used to rescue children and women, and to finger violent criminals, so too is he expounding on how Clearview is refusing to honor Russian subscriptions.
Ton-That is also talking about how Russian troops and officers are being identified through Clearview’s facial recognition.
PimEyes differs from Clearview in its business model, its scale and its audience. According to the company site, subscribers can only search for their own images online. PimEyes is smaller than Clearview, too.
And, importantly, while anyone (reportedly other than Russians) can get a subscription to PimEyes, Ton-That has steadfastly said that only law enforcement agencies could sign up for Clearview. Until a few days ago, when he said he was creating a side service for bankers.
PimEyes was launched in Poland and sold to a professor in Russia-hating Georgia in December, according to the Times.
Only two items appear on the company’s “News & Updates” page, and one of them “expresses solidarity to Ukrainian people.”
There is little reason to doubt the company’s statements (or, for that matter, Ton-That’s). Ukraine is getting the same treatment Georgia received from Russia in the 2000s.
But there also is room for doubt. Like Clearview, PimEyes is considered by some to be an unscrupulous player in biometrics. A not-insubstantial number of people around world contend that they own their faces and no one should be using them for anything without permission.
Both companies have been accused of describing their actions in inexact terms for their benefit.
And that is why some wonder; why the tight focus on Russia in both cases?
There are Russian separatists in Ukraine (and Georgia, for that matter). And the neighboring despotic regime in Belarus is a very active enabler of Russia. China, meanwhile, has promised to stand by Russia. It is not difficult to imagine private or government subscribers surveilling Ukraine.