Last year, SANDLab researchers released Fawkes, an algorithm and software tool to block AI facial recognition models from learning from online photos. Since then, the tool has been downloaded half a million times and covered by dozens of media outlets, including a new story published this week by MIT Technology Review.

In the article, UChicago CS graduate student Emily Wenger spoke to reporter Will Douglas Heaven about the inspiration for the project, similar tools that have come out recently, and the “cat-and-mouse arms race” between Fawkes developers and the Microsoft Azure facial recognition system.

For Wenger, this is the story of the internet. “Companies like Clearview are capitalizing on what they perceive to be freely available data and using it to do whatever they want,” she says.”

Regulation might help in the long run, but that won’t stop companies from exploiting loopholes. “There’s always going to be a disconnect between what is legally acceptable and what people actually want,” she says. “Tools like Fawkes fill that gap.”

“Let’s give people some power that they didn’t have before,” she says.

For more on Fawkes, read the 2020 UChicago feature or the New York Times story.

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