Facial recognition tech, new smartphones from Samsung, Motorola

Today on KITV’s “Good Morning Hawaii,” anchor Maleko McDonnell and I discuss the latest tech headlines, including the controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI, and new smartphones from Samsung (including the Galaxy S20 flagship and Galaxy Z Flip folding phone) and Motorola’s Razr reboot and mid-priced Moto G Power.

Q: Let’s start with privacy, which affects everyone. Civil liberties groups are sounding the alarm about facial recognition technology. What do we need to know?

In the last couple of months, a stealth startup called Clearview AI has been the subject of investigations by journalists at outfits like the New York Times. Basically, this young company has collected billions of photos from across the web, including Facebook, to build what’s believed to be the largest facial recognition library outside of government. And Clearview’s primary customer is law enforcement, including police departments across the country.

Now, facial recognition tech has been powerful and proven for a long time. But until now, giants like Google and Facebook have actually stopped themselves from opening the pandora’s box. They’ve said, “We have this power, but we won’t unleash it.” But now a startup with big funding is pushing ahead.

So vast is this database that police departments have been able to upload grainy photos from security cameras, and get a match on a person just in the background of another photo. They can narrow down a subject in seconds, sometimes right down to a name. And it’s attractive, because while governments have controls in place related to privacy and photos, and usually only work with head-on mugshots, this company is using artificial intelligence that can identify someone even from the side, with a hat, in the dark.

Q: Is there anything we can do to opt out of this technology?

I suppose you can be someone who has never been captured in a photo or video that gets posted online. The fact of the matter is, whether it’s a group photo from a party or a meeting or just your tiny headshot on Linkedin or a video on YouTube, chances are it’s already been scraped and processed. The journalists who’ve had access to the tech have found everyone they’ve tested.

So far, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter have demanded that ClearView stop scraping photos from their services, though of course this is after the startup has stockpiled billions of images already. Lawmakers in Washington are calling for investigations. And some local governments are pre-emptively passing laws to prevent their law enforcement agencies from using these tools.

Q: On a lighter note, let’s get to gadgets. It’s a good week to be an Android user.

That’s right. We’ve got two sets of smartphones from Samsung and Motorola. Samsung is pushing the state of the art, the high-end, and Motorola is still making solid mid-range, affordable phones.

We can start with Samsung. They’ve got their flagship S20 line: Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra. They’re pushing the camera, with 108 megapixel photos and 8K video. That’s bigger than anyone should really need. But they’re also going big on folding screens with the Galaxy Z Flip. Instead of a large size smartphone that opens up to a tablet-sized screen, the Galaxy Z Flip is a large size smartphone that folds down to a more pocketable size. And while folding screens have not been a success so far, the reviews of this one are pretty encouraging.

Q: And Motorola?

Well, a little while back, Motorola released a new Razr, reclaiming the classic flip phone name and concept from twenty years ago. But $1,500 is a lot to pay for nostalgia. This week they’re talking about their new Moto G Power. The headline is the price, at $250. And they call it the ‘Power’ model because the battery is supposed to last three days. You also get a 6.4 inch screen, 16 megapixel camera, a fingerprint sensor. A solid phone for a third of what a top-of-the-line smartphone costs, and a good option for the budget conscious.

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