IBM Secretly Used Flickr Photos for Facial Recognition

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IBM secretly used millions of Flickr photos to test its facial recognition system. IBM claimed it was to help reduce bias in facial recognition.

Despite IBM’s assurances that Flickr users can opt out of the database, NBC News discovered that it’s almost impossible to get photos removed. IBM requires photographers to email links to photos they want removed, but the company has not publicly shared the list of Flickr users and photos included in the dataset, so there is no easy way of finding out whose photos are included.

NBC News got a copy of the data set, and created a tool to help you find out if IBM used your photos without your permission.

Check It Out: IBM Secretly Used Flickr Photos for Facial Recognition

IBM Secretly Used Flickr Photos for Facial Recognition

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. archimedes

    It sounds like neither Yahoo! nor IBM violated the Creative Commons licenses, whereby the photographers explicitly permitted commercial usage.

    I sympathize with the subjects of the pictures – it seems like they don’t have much of a recourse unless they can prove that IBM or Yahoo! violated some sort of privacy law. Perhaps they might have some recourse under EU privacy laws (good luck in the US though.)

    I also sympathize with IBM, who simply used publicly available data on the internet to train their algorithms, and expressly selected photos that could be freely used commercially.

  2. rjackb

    Holding copyright to an image gives you various rights, one of which is to display the image publicly so your comment is inaccurate. The general rule is that you can’t use a copyrighted work without express authorization from the owner. It gets a little murkier with Flickr in that they used the Creative Commons thing which allowed different levels of image usage from whatever you want to none at all.

    • geoduck

      But was IBM “using” them. They weren’t incorporating them in a work they were producing. They were not selling the images. They were not even copying the images. Literally they were letting their AI look at the images on a public site exactly like a million people a day do. Seeing an image and learning something, just like you or I do. Would it make a difference if I was looking through Flickr images of people to get an idea of fashion? Or makeup? Or how about I wanted to paint a portrait and I studied pictures of people on Flickr to gain an understanding of facial structure? Oh but IBM is a corporation. Well what if I had formed a corporation for my art business?

      I do not see anything IBM did as wrong.

  3. geoduck

    Uh wait a minute. Isn’t Flickr a public site? Why would anyone think that IBM, Google, or anyone else would NOT use their pictures if they are on a public site? The article you’ve liked too seems overly sensationalist. The fact is these pictures were freely available on the web for anyone to view, or use. The images just cannot be sold without the owner’s consent. I do not see IBM has done anything wrong here.

    • geoduck

      In other words: I don’t tell everyone when I go to Flickr or Instagram, or TMO for that mater. Why is it some secret, and by implication, evil plot that IBM did not put up a billboard when they did it?

      • Andrew Orr

        It probably depends on the Flickr terms of service. Like with Facebook and probably Instagram for example, they technically own he rights to photos you upload. But with Flickr I think adding a creative commons license or something similar is optional.

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