Coronavirus Mask Image dataset criticised for violating user privacy

Occurred: May 2020

A dataset of masked people taken from photographs posted to Instagram and used to improve facial recognition systems was criticised as a violation of people's privacy. 

US-based AI startup WorkAround identified around 1,200 photos on Instagram and labeled them with masks on or off in order to help train facial recognition systems identify individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company neither informed or gained the consent of those peeople whose photographs they used.

A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, told CNET they do not allow third parties to collect or use photos posted by their users in this way without their consent. However, WorkAround CEO Wafaa Arbash said 'We’re not making any money off of this, it’s not commercial. The goal and the intention was to help any data science or machine learning engineers who are working to fix this issue and help with public safety.'

The incident highlighted concerns about the impact of facial recognition on people's privacy, the provision of open data containing privacy-violating information, and how such datasets may be used in other contexts. 

System 🤖

Operator: WorkAround
Developer: WorkAround

Country: USA

Sector: Health

Purpose: Improve facial recognition algorithms

Technology: Database/dataset; Facial recognition; Computer vision
Issue: Privacy; Ethics/values

Transparency: Privacy