The prestigious journal Nature features research fellow Adam Harvey’s project Megapixels.

Under the title “The ethical questions that haunt facial-recognition research” the article discusses controversial studies, which are using facial-recognition technology, as well as a Nature survey, that reveals that many researchers in this field think there is a ethical problem.

“In 2019, Berlin-based artist Adam Harvey created a website called MegaPixels that flagged these and other data sets. He and another Berlin-based technologist and programmer, Jules LaPlace, showed that many had been shared openly and used to evaluate and improve commercial surveillance products. Some were cited, for instance, by companies that worked on military projects in China. “I wanted to uncover the uncomfortable truth that many of the photos people posted online have an afterlife as training data,” Harvey says. In total, he says he has charted 29 data sets, used in around 900 research projects. Researchers often use public Flickr images that were uploaded under copyright licences that allow liberal reuse.

After The Financial Times published an article on Harvey’s work in 2019, Microsoft and several universities took their data sets down. Most said at the time — and reiterated to Nature this month — that their projects had been completed or that researchers had requested that the data set be removed. Computer scientist Carlo Tomasi at Duke University was the sole researcher to apologize for a mistake. In a statement two months after the data set had been taken down, he said he had got institutional review board (IRB) approval for his recordings — which his team made to analyse the motion of objects in video, not for facial recognition. But the IRB guidance said he shouldn’t have recorded outdoors and shouldn’t have made the data available without password protection. Tomasi told Nature that he did make efforts to alert students by putting up posters to describe the project.”, 18.11.2020

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