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Microsoft takes down world’s largest facial recognition data set amid privacy concerns

A Microsoft building

Microsoft quietly deleted a data set of more than 10 million images, intended as a test and training data set for facial recognition algorithms, according to a report (paywall) by the Financial Times. The database, dubbed MS Celeb, was the largest public facial recognition data set in the world, and contained more than 10 million images of more than 100,000 people — largely scrapped from publicly available online sources. Uncovered by Berlin-based researcher Adam Harvey, it was reportedly being used by companies to test their facial recognition software. The takedown came after an Financial Times investigation (paywall) found that many of the people in the database were not aware of they were on it, and had not consented to having their pictures used. In a statement to FT, Microsoft tried to downplay the controversy, saying the database was only for “academic purposes” and was run by an employee who “no longer works for the company”. The FT report noted that the MS Celeb database is still available to any academic institution or company that had previously downloaded it, and is still being shared on GitHub, Dropbox, and Baidu Cloud. Harvey also discovered very similar databases hosted by Duke and Stanford Universities' researchers during his investigation, which have since been taken down. Microsoft is not the only company to have assembled a large data set by scraping photos from open Internet. In January, IBM announced it was sharing a collection of 1 million publicly available faces to "study the fairness and accuracy in facial recognition technology". It…

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