These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database

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Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

When Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, he tried to describe the difference between “surveillance and what we do.” “The difference is extremely clear,” a nervous-looking Zuckerberg said. “On Facebook, you have control over your information… the information we collect you can choose to have us not collect.”

But not a single member of the committee pushed the billionaire CEO about surveillance companies who exploit the data on Facebook for profit. Forbes has uncovered one case that might shock them: over the last five years a secretive surveillance company founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer has been quietly building a massive facial recognition database consisting of faces acquired from the giant social network, YouTube and countless other websites. Privacy activists are suitably alarmed.

That database forms the core of a facial recognition service called Face-Int, now owned by Israeli vendor Verint after it snapped up the product’s creator, little-known surveillance company Terrogence, in 2017. Both Verint and Terrogence have long been vendors for the U.S. government, providing bleeding-edge spy tech to the NSA, the U.S. Navy and countless other intelligence and security agencies.

As described on the Terrogence website, the database consists of facial profiles of thousands of suspects “harvested from such online sources as YouTube, Facebook and open and closed forums all over the globe.” Those faces were extracted from as many as 35,000 videos and photos of terrorist training camps, motivational clips and terror attacks. That same marketing page was online in 2013, according to internet archive the Wayback Machine, indicating the product is at least five years old. The age of the product also suggests far more than 35,000 videos and photos have been raided by the Face-Int technology by now, though Terrogence co-founder and research lead Shai Arbel declined to comment for this article.

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Source: Forbes | These Ex-Spies Are Harvesting Facebook Photos For A Massive Facial Recognition Database


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