Israeli company is using Facebook, YouTube to build a sketchy database
Facebook has been under fire for its handling of personal data, but what companies around the world can do with that data is even more frightening.
Over the past five years, Terrogence, a surveillance company founded by former Israeli intelligence officers, has been using social networking sites including Facebook and YouTube to build a giant facial-recognition database, Forbes reports.
The database is part of Terrogence’s facial-recognition service Face-Int. It contains the faces of thousands of terrorism suspects, harvested from as many as 35,000 videos and photos.
Terrogence, as well as its parent company Verint, supply intelligence technology to the U.S. government, including the NSA and Navy. Both give the government access to information on terrorist weaponry and tactics that the company gathers through social media. It’s entirely possible that the U.S. government could have access to this database.
“Terrogence actively monitors and collects online profiles and facial images of terrorists, criminals and other individuals believed to pose a threat to aviation security, immigration and national security,” the company’s website reads. “The Face-Int database houses the profiles of thousands of suspects harvested from such online sources as YouTube, Facebook, and open and closed forums all over the globe.”
A company brochure states that Terrogence specializes in “cultivating and operating virtual entities in online spaces, that access social media platforms legitimately and act naturally, gaining trust, forming connections, and ultimately collecting valuable intelligence.” In other words: it spies on you through fake profiles.
Earlier this month, Verint launched an additional facial-recognition product called FaceDetect, which not only identifies individuals, but also “allows operators to instantaneously add suspects to watch lists.”
But there’s more to Terrogence than meets the eye. A former Terrogence staffer claimed on her LinkedIn profile to have been involved in investigations of “political and social groups” via social media as well. That means that Terrogence’s research may not be limited to terrorism-related intelligence — it may be looking at you, too.
So, should we run for our lives?
Not necessarily. A comprehensive facial recognition database could certainly help the U.S. government keep citizens safe. It could, for example, help authorities identify suspects, detect terrorists in disguise, or track down missing persons more efficiently and accurately. We recently saw something similar built in China.
Still, Terrogence should also serve as a reminder to all of us. We may have caught Cambridge Analytica, but we shouldn’t forget that countless more organizations are out there taking advantage of Facebook’s wealth of data. Even as the social network tightens up restrictions, it’s important to be careful.