MICROSOFT HAS QUIETLY PULLED a facial recognition database containing 10 million images offline following claims it was being used by companies in China behind the repressive surveillance in Xinjiang province.
The 'MS Celeb' database was first published in 2016, with Microsoft at the time boasting that it was the "largest facial recognition dataset in the world" with 10 million snapshots of more than 100,000 individuals.
Turns out, however, these individuals had not given their consent, with Microsoft instead scraping the images from search engines and videos published online under a Creative Commons licence.
The firm had labelled the database 'Celeb' to indicate that the faces were of publicly known figures but also included a number of non-celebs, including journalists, who told the FT that they had no knowledge of their inclusion.
The FT on Thursday revealed that the database had been taken offline, alongside similar databases set up by Duke University and Stanford University researchers.
Microsoft said in a statement given to the website that "the site was intended for academic purposes and "was run by an employee that is no longer with Microsoft and has since been removed."
The report suggests that the database had been used by a number of big-name firms, including IBM, Panasonic, Nvidia and Hitachi, as well as Sensetime and Megvii in China.
The latter two are involved in the Chinese government surveillance system installed in the province of Xinjiang where ethnic Uyghur people are closely monitored. More than one million people are believed to be held in internment camps, though the Chinese government claims that they are training centres.
The dataset had been discovered by Adam Harvey, who runs the Megapixels project which tracks different databases of personal information and how they are used.
Harvey warned that although Microsoft had taken the database offline, it is still being widely shared by people and groups who had downloaded it.
"People are posting it on GitHub, hosting the files on Dropbox and Baidu Cloud, so there is no way from stopping them from continuing to post it and use it for their own purposes," Harvey told the FT. µ
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