Facial Recognition Bias – Spotlight #363

Good Monday morning. It’s November 23rd. Happy Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law and her family are big fans of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade, which is still happening this year. The parade’s official site shows the performers, the floats, the TV schedule — everything you need to know to curl up on the couch with a cup of nostalgia.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,106 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Amazon Pharmacy launched Tuesday. Regular readers have followed its methodical Galactic Empire march through acquisitions, intellectual property, and pre-positioning. Amazon says they’ll even call your pharmacy to transfer your meds over because they’re helpful like that. And yes, Prime members get two day delivery.

b. Digital media companies Vox and HuffPo had interesting weeks. The three co-founders of Vox announced separately that they were leaving. Meanwhile, Verizon sold HuffPo to BuzzFeed, where one of its co-founders is now editor-in-chief. 

c. Apple is paying another $100 million plus over Batterygate. The company began using its software to slow down its iPhone 6 and 7 devices with dated batteries because the devices might unexpectedly stop working. The company has previously paid more than $500 million in fines to European regulators and to settle a class action suit in the U.S. (NPR)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News

4 Ways Virtual Meetings Can Cause Legal Problems – Law 360
A COVID-fighting tool is buried in your phone. Turn it on – Washington Post
COVID-19’s new twist to Internet romance scams – Tampa Bay Times
Google updates COVID-19 forecasting models – Venture Beat
New York Fines Sellers for Hand Sanitizer Price Gouging – CNBC
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter fight vaccine conspiracies – BBC

A new autonomous vehicle is taking to city streets. Kar-Go will be tested delivering medicine in London. The futuristic looking vehicle plots out efficient delivery schedules and sorts the packages inside, giving the recipient access to only their items. 

3. Search Engine News

Leisure travel’s annual peak is during Thanksgiving Week. Media reports are covering a travel surge this year despite warnings from the CDC and other public health experts that gathering with people outside your household is dangerous.

Google Maps is rolling out enhancements that will hopefully mitigate some of the danger by showing data that only a company with Google’s scale can capture. 

If you’re driving, you can look at Google Maps for information on COVID-19 infection rates, local guidelines, and information on testing sites and restrictions. People on buses and trains will be able to see real-time information on how crowded stations and routes are as well as delays.

Please stay home if you can.

4. In the Spotlight — Facial Recognition Bias

“Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies.”

— Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief John McMahon, banning the department’s use of Clearview AI

We’ve written before about facial recognition bias and about Clearview AI, a company that scraped non-public data from Facebook and other sites to build a database of people who would not otherwise be included in law enforcement databases. More than two thousand public agencies and companies have used Clearview’s data.

It is important to understand that Clearview even downloaded photos of you posted by others. The sites prohibit that activity, and Clearview’s actions may still cause the company significant legal harm. But the database exists.

Machine learning and rudimentary AI are exciting and will undoubtedly help solve problems in the future, but today’s software amplifies human foibles at scale. One example: a paper collaborated on by researchers at multiple universities found that images analyzed by software at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon identified women by describing their physical appearance three times more often then men. The top descriptors for men were “official” and “businessperson,” but were “smile” and “chin” for women.

We’ve known for a long time that facial recognition software is racially biased. That was a big part of the decision making process executives at IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft cited when they stopped selling those services to law enforcement agencies earlier this year.

Research dating back to 2018 found that facial recognition bias exists on both gender and race. Darker skinned females were misidentified more than 33% of the time while the error rate for light skinned males was only 1%. And if you’re mistakenly detained or arrested for a crime as part of that one percent, you will undoubtedly think that rate is too high.

The data-driven technologists who create the software that accomplishes the miracle of facial recognition acknowledge the bias. But too many decisions continue to be made that place women and people of color into inappropriate circumstances because of facial recognition bias.

5. Debunked:  Moose Licking Cars

Here is your Thanksgiving Day trivia. Memes claiming that moose lick cars have been circulating online for days. 

That’s because they do!

The moose are apparently attracted by the road salt on cars, but human-moose close proximity can be dangerous because, well, just let this 2016 CTV report that Snopes dug up explain things.

6. Following Up: Twitter Fleets

It was only last week when we told you about Facebook Messenger’s ephemeral function called Vanish that causes messages to disappear after being read.

Twitter launched the same function last week with the horribly punny name of “fleets”.  The message stays on your timeline for 24 hours before, err, vanishing.  

See the announcement and short video here.

7. Protip: Move files from Phone to Computer

Black Friday sales will undoubtedly beckon to some of you and you’ll want to move files between computer and phone because you bought one or the other.  One is easy, ten is a pain, and more than that requires special help.

Digital Trends has you covered whether your favorite flavor is PC or Mac.

It’s Samuel L starring as himself and John Travolta as Santa in a credit card commercial that couldn’t feature Sam’s trademark phrase but alludes to it. Also, Travolta dances again, but it’s not a Saturday Night Fever look.

9. Coffee Break: Still Tasty

Thanksgiving ain’t Thanksgiving without leftovers so the good folks at Still Tasty tell you when they can be safely eaten.

As a special holiday gift to my youngest son, the USDA debunks a story about refrigerating hot food. Seems it’s perfectly safe to do so. You’re welcome, son.

Stuffing is only safe 3-4 days. Don’t make too much!

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