Civics: Your Personal Information is Yours, Not the Raw Material for Surveillance Technology

Jake Snow:

The information that you share with a company should not be repurposed or sold without your consent. But companies are building algorithms from massive repositories of personal information, collected from people who are not told about how the company will use their information.

A recent report revealed a troubling example of this invasive practice. A Silicon Valley-based company called Ever apparently used billions of private photos they collected from their users to secretly train a face surveillance tool marketed to the military and law enforcement.

Your private photos are yours and should not be the raw materials of surveillance technology.

This is an egregious violation of people’s privacy. When companies collect people’s personal information—like private photos—for one purpose, they should get permission from their users before they contort that data for an entirely different purpose.

So what happened here? Ever describes itself as “a company dedicated to helping you capture and rediscover your life’s memories.” Its website shows a photo album called “Weekend with Grandpa” depicting a young child playing outside. Ever’s “free” and “unlimited” photo storage and sharing app, called Everalbum, offers to make “it easy to share your favorite memories with the people who matter most.” Ever eventually accumulated billions of photos from millions of people into this “private” platform.