Creepy A.I. stalking happens, whether you're talking about the Taylor Swift kiosk with facial recognition during her 2018 Reputation Tour or the Amazon software that confused minority members of Congress with mug shots of criminals.
But this is outstripped by startup Clearview AI, which reportedly scraped billions of facial images from websites and then licensed the capabilities to 600 law enforcement organizations.
It's been considered so outrageous that even Google and Microsoft have spoken with EU officials about a potential ban. Google CEO Sundar Pichai supposedly has supported the idea of a temporary one.
But then, Google already has face detection and recognition technology that developers can use.
About that ban ...
The business world is awash with opacity and, ultimately, dishonesty. Companies do things that they shouldn't and try to cover their activities over, or at least spin them as something less problematic. Tobacco, sugar, and petroleum producers using sophisticated PR techniques to undercut serious scientific questions about their activities and negative impact on the public interest. Tech companies pretending that they're not monitoring the personal information of people to a degree no one realized was possible, let alone in practice. Transportation companies insisting there was nothing wrong with their systems even though people died using them. Pick any industry and you will find scandalous stories that someone thought could be kept permanently in a storage vault.
No one likes to be wrong and no company wants to admit something that could cause legal liability or be a public embarrassment. But, seriously, how long does that last in today's environment? A week? A few years?
What is done in secret often comes out. Not always, but betting on keeping something under wraps is a bad call. Even the CIA, NSA, and other intelligence and espionage agencies--organizations where secrecy is the foundation on which their operations rest--can't guarantee that everything remains on the quiet. What are the chances that you and your company can do what they can't?
At the opposite end are companies that gained immense respect and loyalty from true transparency. The Tylenol poisoning scare of decades ago became a story of openness and honesty that left the brand even more trusted than before.
There will always be problems in any company, just as there are with people. You will make mistakes. You can't help it. What you can do is learn to own up to it, because you're playing for bigger stakes than you may realize. It's ultimately all about being human. Here's a marvelous clip from the movie version of The Big Kahuna.
This is about character--how you act toward people and circumstances and events in the private confines of those times you're invisible to the world. And what it takes to attain true character.
One character, Phil (played by Danny DeVito), tells another, Bob (Peter Facinelli), that he has no character and that no one can until they own to themselves what they regret.
Bob: "You're saying I won't have any character unless I do something I regret?"
Phil: "No, Bob. I'm saying you've already done plenty of things to regret. You just don't know what they are. It's when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you've done and you wish you had it to do over, but you know you can't because it's too late. So you pick that thing up and you carry it with you to remind you that life goes on. The world will spin without you. You really don't matter in the end. Then you will attain character because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face. Until that day, however, you cannot expect to go beyond a certain point."
This is one of the truest things I've seen or heard in any movie. You can never erase the past. You can, however, admit to it and move forward, vigilant against that mistake so you don't make it again.
Hiding, in life or in business, is a cowardly action. Sometimes, embracing the truth is horribly difficult. But, bit by bit, you can and develop character. And then something odd happens. The entirety of what you took as your life begins to melt and reform itself around something profound within you.
Let this process begin in your business. If you do something wrong, admit so and try to set it right. Even if you ultimately can't for one customer, or a group, or an entire set of stakeholders in your company, things begin to change. The way you do business will begin to reshape itself around the germ of something that will be inviolate.
That is the importance of transparency. It is a tool that will help you do business in a truly honorable way. Maybe it won't make you rich, but you'll likely find more and more people who want to do business with you. Because you will be honest.