Facial Recognition Tech in Severe Need of Regulation: John Oliver

Oliver discussed how it was allegedly being used to target people protesting in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tech News
2 min read
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In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, the show’s host John Oliver discussed the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in the United States and how it is allegedly being used to target people protesting in the Black Lives Matter movement.

He explained how law enforcement agencies are the biggest users of facial recognition technology and said that almost half of the American population have had a picture of them searched by the police.

He talks about how the police justify the use of facial recognition tech to prevent terror attacks and other crimes. But is the trade-off worth the privacy of millions of people online, he asks.

Facial recognition technology has been in the system for the past few years. The same tech is used by Facebook to recognise faces to auto-tag people, and also most of the smartphones today come with facial recognition technology that unlocks your phones.

John Oliver touched upon the fact that facial recognition technology doesn’t have many rules of how it can be used by people, especially by those in power.

“This technology raises troubling philosophical questions about personal freedom and, right now, there are also some very immediate practical issues,” he said.

There was also a section on the show where he talked about how unreliable the technology is.

For example, one MIT researcher found that Amazon’s facial recognition technology was not able to identify darker-skinned females with accuracy but at the same time had no issues with white male faces.

Oliver stated how major tech companies around the world have clamped down on the use of facial recognition tech and are using it with caution.

While Amazon has placed a one-year moratorium of sharing its facial recognition tech with police, Microsoft has now said it won’t sell its facial recognition technology until regulations are in place.


What was the highlight of the show was the rant around how a company called Clearview AI has been collecting images from social media websites like Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram and then creating its own database to share with federal law agencies at a premium.

“If a photo of you has been uploaded to the internet, there’s a decent chance that Clearview has it, even if someone uploaded it without your consent. Even if you untagged yourself, or later set your account to private,” Oliver said.

Though Clearview AI’s CEO Hoan Ton-That has said that the database will only be shared with law agencies, the company has already made deals with private firms like Kohl’s, Walmart & Macy’s.

Oliver pointed out how some of the US States like San Francisco have banned facial recognition and stressed that a nationwide comprehensive policy needs to be established.

To conclude, John Oliver suggested people let Clearview know what they think about the company collecting photos without their consent by uploading a photo with a sign that reads “these photos were taken unwillingly and I’d rather you not be looking at them.”

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