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The FTC has set a new precedent and people are wondering if Facebook should start worrying about the future of their algorithms. Here's why.

A problem with A.I.: Will the FTC destroy Facebook’s algorithms?

For years now, people have lamented the slow erosion of privacy as our lives become more and more digitized. It seems like an inevitability or a necessary side-effect of using “free” services that make our lives more convenient.

Thanks to a new decision made by the Federal Trade Commission this may not be so inevitable after all. The FTC recently made a decision that could potentially rock the world of tech companies – and not in a good way. Although, internet users may well be on the verge of rejoicing.

The decision was one regarding a photo app called Ever, but it sets a precedent that could just as easily affect companies like Facebook or Google. Here’s everything you need to know.

Photo app Ever

Artificial intelligence is run by algorithms and the best way to teach AI & algorithms is by utilizing the biggest set of data you can get your hands on. A photo storage application called Ever (owned by parent company Everalbum – renamed Paravision) took advantage of their users’ trust in order to create a large dataset.

The company was using customers’ photos without permission in order to create a massive set of data to train a facial recognition system. Meaning users’ selfies, pictures of their kids, and other personal images were being used without their knowledge. This system was then sold to law enforcement agencies and the United States military.

The FTC has officially decided this was an inappropriate use of their app. Not only is Ever being forced to delete the massive image catalogue they’ve created, but they’re also being required to delete the algorithms they created using the immoral data.

This could potentially be a suckerpunch to Paravision since they had recently signed a contract with the Air Force to create facial recognition technology for them. The set of data they’d been using for this is no longer at their disposal.

The implications

While the ramifications for Paravision are clear, this raises some questions about what the decision could mean for bigger companies that are notorious for having their way with user data in any way they please – companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon.

Facebook and Google are currently facing down the barrel of antitrust lawsuits for behaving like monopolies. This new FTC decision could potentially lead to further problems for the companies. This isn’t the first time the tech giants have been under scrutiny – just two years ago in 2019 Google was fined $170 million for inappropriately obtaining & using information – specifically data on children.

Facebook is also a notorious abuser of user information – creating complicated algorithms to create highly sophisticated advertising algorithms that can not only compile information on each individual user, but create eerily targeted ads with that data. The decision about Ever means that not only could Facebook potentially be forced to delete all their user information; they could even be forced to delete the algorithms that plague users day in and day out.

Facebook algorithms have also been scrutinized for potentially being party to the massive & passionate political divide currently happening in the United States by promoting divisive and sometimes inaccurate information. It’s believed the algorithms do this because outrage ultimately creates engagement. This also leads to the creation of echo chambers by only suggesting content that serves as confirmation bias to users.

Conclusion

The real question is what we could see happen to these big tech companies. These companies are so massive that any fine could be viewed as a slap on the wrist. Using Ever as an example shows exactly how to ensure the punishment fits the crime.

People have voiced concerns over how you can ensure every iteration of an algorithm (or even the data for that matter) is deleted or how you can ensure that the AI isn’t rebuilt again from scratch. Sadly, there are no easy answers to this, but the FTC’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction toward recreating a sense of privacy for all the citizens of the internet.

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