Vector image of a girls face with red circle and slash over the face.(cancel symbol)

Be My Eyes app: Facial recognition feature?

Facial recognition - is it a privacy issue?

By My Eyes is a free iOS and Android smartphone app. Connecting blind and low vision users with sighted volunteers, Be My Eyes provides visual assistance through a live video connection. Integrated into the app is GPT-4 artificial intelligence. This powerful image-to-text automatic generation tool instantaneously identifies images and shares the information in a conversational format.

Be My Eyes benefits people with visual impairments, providing detailed descriptions of images of people. In some cases, the name of the person is identified. Last week, faces were blurred and the app no longer provides details about the faces or identified faces. Why is the VI community in an uproar about the blurred faces? The app can read text on a prescription bottle, read mail, or identify a room number. However, many people use the app to provide details about pictures of friends, family members and even their children. “Once the faces started being blocked, this caused an extreme level of upset. People had been given a tool that was a game changer in their lives, and then, puff, it was gone.” (David Redmond, NCBI)

Be My Eyes Statement

“Be My AI (powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 image-to-text model) has proven to be an effective tool for users who are blind or have low vision. However, as part of beta testing, OpenAI’s engine may blur faces or omit facial descriptions if a person is in the picture because of legitimate privacy considerations. The resulting lack of facial description is frustrating and disappointing to blind and low-vision users who hope that AI will provide the same helpful information a sighted person obtains from just looking around. We share that sentiment.

AI is a huge new tool requiring new guard rails, and right now society is in the process of inventing the right kind of protection. Be My AI runs on OpenAI’s GPT-4 model, and we both must follow an emerging patchwork of national and international laws. We’re trying to be legally diligent and responsible about privacy, regulation, and user experience – while strongly representing our community’s desire to know as much about the world around them as possible. Including faces. These are complex issues that we’re committed to working on with our partners.” (Published statement from Be My Eyes)

Find the full statement on the Be My Eyes website.

Update September 22, 2023

Currently, Be My Eyes facial recognition is working once again, although there is no guarantee that things will continue to work. The issue is significantly bigger than if the app works correctly – the app must follow standard guidelines. The debate is about privacy; society must first establish rules around facial recognition and privacy.

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