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One database, which dates to 2014, was put together by researchers at Stanford. It was called Brainwash, after a San Francisco cafe of the same name, where the researchers tapped into a camera. Over three days, the camera took more than 10,000 images, which went into the database, the researchers wrote in a 2015 paper. The paper did not address whether cafe patrons knew their images were being taken and used for research. (The cafe has closed.)
The Stanford researchers then shared Brainwash. According to research papers, it was used in China by academics associated with the National University of Defense Technology and Megvii, an artificial intelligence company that The New York Times previously reported has provided surveillance technology for monitoring Uighurs.
The Brainwash data set was removed from its original website last month after Adam Harvey, an activist in Germany who tracks the use of these repositories through a website called MegaPixels, drew attention to it. Links between Brainwash and papers describing work to build A.I. systems at the National University of Defense Technology in China have also been deleted, according to documentation from Mr. Harvey.
Stanford researchers who oversaw Brainwash did not respond to requests for comment. “As part of the research process, Stanford routinely makes research documentation and supporting materials available publicly,” a university official said. “Once research materials are made public, the university does not track their use nor did university officials.”
Duke University researchers also started a database in 2014 using eight cameras on campus to collect images, according to a 2016 paper published as part of the European Conference on Computer Vision. The cameras were denoted with signs, said Carlo Tomasi, the Duke computer science professor who helped create the database. The signs gave a number or email for people to opt out.
The Duke researchers ultimately gathered more than two million video frames with images of over 2,700 people, according to the paper. They also posted the data set, named Duke MTMC, online. It was later cited in myriad documents describing work to train A.I. in the United States, in China, in Japan, in Britain and elsewhere... An OkCupid spokeswoman said Clarifai contacted the company in 2014 “about collaborating to determine if they could build unbiased A.I. and facial recognition technology” and that the dating site “did not enter into any commercial agreement then and have no relationship with them now.” She did not address whether Clarifai had gained access to OkCupid’s photos without its consent.
Clarifai used the images from OkCupid to build a service that could identify the age, sex and race of detected faces, Mr. Zeiler said. The start-up also began working on a tool to collect images from a website called Insecam — short for “insecure camera” — which taps into surveillance cameras in city centers and private spaces without authorization. Clarifai’s project was shut down last year after some employees protested and before any images were gathered, he said.
Tech regulation may be the only thing on which a polarized Capitol Hill can agree. “We should be suing Google and Facebook and all that, and perhaps we will,” President Trump recently declared.Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, has made the breakup of tech companies a central plank of her campaign. Even Silicon Valley-friendly contenders like Pete Buttigieg have called for curbs on the industry’s power.
If Americans buy into the idea that the tech industry is an entrepreneurial, free-market miracle in which government played little part, then the prospect of stricter regulation is ominous. But that isn’t what actually happened. Throughout the history of the tech industry in the United States, the government has been an important regulator, funder and partner. Public policies — including antitrust enforcement, data privacy regulation and rules governing online content — helped make the industry into the innovative juggernaut that it is today. In recent years, lawmakers pulled back from this role. As they return to it, the history of American tech delivers some important lessons.
Advocates of big-tech breakup often point to precedent set by the antitrust cases of the twentieth century. The three biggest were Microsoft in the 1990s, IBM in the 1950s through the 1980s, and the moves that turned AT&T into a regulated monopoly in 1913 and ended with its breakup seven decades later. Microsoft and IBM didn’t break up, and even AT&T’s dissolution happened partly because the company wanted the freedom to enter new markets.
What made these cases a boon to tech innovation was not the breaking up — which is hard to do — but the consent decrees resulting from antitrust action. Even without forcing companies to split into pieces, antitrust enforcement opened up space for market competition and new growth. Consent decrees in the mid-1950s required both IBM and AT&T to license key technologies for free or nearly free. These included the transistor technology foundational to the growth of the microchip industry: We would have no silicon in Silicon Valley without it. Microsoft dominated the 1990s software world so thoroughly that its rivals dubbed it “the Death Star.” After the lawsuit, it entered the new century constrained and cautious, giving more room for new platforms to gain a foothold.
When the iPhone maker releases its new mobile operating system this fall, apps downloaded through Apple’s App Store that offer sign-ups through a third-party social-media account such as Facebook will have another alternative: clicking on an Apple icon to generate a random email address so that users can participate without revealing any personal information.