Vladimir Putin was not in attendance, but his loyal lieutenants were. On 14 July last year, the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and several members of his cabinet convened in an office building on the outskirts of Moscow. On to the stage stepped a boyish-looking psychologist, Michal Kosinski, who had been flown from the city centre by helicopter to share his research. "There was Lavrov, in the first row," he recalls several months later, referring to Russia's foreign minister. "You know, a guy who starts wars and takes over countries." Kosinski, a 36-year-old assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, was flattered that the Russian cabinet would gather to listen to him talk. "Those guys strike me as one of the most competent and well-informed groups," he tells me. Kosinski's "stuff" includes groundbreaking research into technology, mass persuasion and artificial intelligence (AI) – research that inspired the creation of the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Five years ago, while a graduate student at Cambridge University, he showed how even benign activity on Facebook could reveal personality traits – a discovery that was later exploited by the data-analytics firm that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
It was the first day of school in Russia, a much-beloved unofficial holiday, and President Vladimir Putin was on stage in a national TV broadcast, chatting with jeans-clad teenagers about the future. "Artificial intelligence is the future," he told them, "not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world." Then, this March, in the final moments of Putin's re-election campaign, came a stern message to lawmakers at his annual address to parliament: "The speed of technological progress is accelerating sharply...
Facebook has removed accounts, pages and apps linked to firms which build facial recognition software for the Russian government. The social media giant announced on Thursday it had removed 66 accounts associated with SocialDataHub and its sister firm Fubutech. It said the companies had violated Facebook policy by scraping data from the social network. 'Facebook has reason to believe your work for the government has included matching photos from individuals' personal social media accounts in order to identify them,' the company said in a cease-and-desist letter to SocialDataHub, The New York Times reported. The companies involved, which share 52 employees in Moscow, were reportedly given until yesterday to confirm what data they had taken and delete it.
While AFR tech has been trialled by a number of UK police forces, this appears to be the first time it has led to an arrest. South Wales Police didn't provide details about the nature of the arrest, presumably because it's an ongoing case. Back in April, it emerged that South Wales Police planned to scan the faces "of people at strategic locations in and around the city centre" ahead of the UEFA Champions League final, which was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on June 3. On May 31, though, a man was arrested via AFR. "It was a local man and unconnected to the Champions League," a South Wales Police spokesperson told Ars.
A legal challenge against the use of automatic facial recognition technology by police has been launched by a civil liberties group. Automatic Facial Recognition uses CCTV or surveillance cameras to record and compare facial characteristics with images on police databases. Lawyers for Big Brother Watch argue the use of AFR breaches the rights of individuals under the Human Rights Act. The Metropolitan Police says the technology will help keep London safe. The system is being piloted in London, with three other forces - Humberside, South Wales, and Leicestershire - also trialling the technology.