A popular photo app called Ever, which was ostensibly used for cloud storage of photos, has been using customer pictures to train facial recognition AI software, according to a report by CNBC.
The company, which was started in 2013, marketed itself as a “warm and fuzzy” photo app site that would help customers store photos and free up space on their phones.
What’s not clear to most people is what the photos are used for, unless they read the company’s terms of service, which NBC News says was even more vague before they started investigating it.
“This looks like an egregious violation of people’s privacy,” said Jacob Snow, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California. “They are taking images of people’s families, photos from a private photo app, and using it to build surveillance technology. That’s hugely concerning.”
Ever encourages agencies like military and police institutions to use its “technology to provide your citizens and law enforcement personnel with the highest degree of protection from crime, violence and injustice.” The company touts its “ever-expanding private global dataset of 13 billion photos and videos.”
It also says it has “best-in-class face recognition technology.” According to Ever, the technology can “enhance surveillance capabilities” and “identify and act on threats.” It does not mention anything about its “best moments” snapshots, which it uses to build its customer base.
Some users were not aware their photos were being used to train an artificial intelligence program. “I was not aware of any facial recognition in the Ever app,” said Sarah Puchinsky-Roxey, a photographer. “Which is kind of creepy, since I have pictures of both my children on there, as well as friends who have never consented to this type of thing.”
The company previously said the facial recognition tech was intended to allow users to organize and share files. The only mention that it might be used for something else was: “Your files may be used to help improve and train our products and these technologies.”
The company added a line on April 15, after it was contacted by NBC News: “Some of these technologies may be used in our separate products and services for enterprise customers, including our enterprise face recognition offerings, but your files and personal information will not be.”