AI trained on photos from kids’ entire childhood without their consent

AI trained on photos from kids’ entire childhood without their consent
AI trained on photos from kids’ entire childhood without their consent

Photos of Brazilian kids—sometimes spanning their entire childhood—have been used without their consent to power AI tools, including popular image generators like Stable Diffusion, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Monday.

This act poses urgent privacy risks to kids and seems to increase risks of non-consensual AI-generated images bearing their likenesses, HRW’s report said.

An HRW researcher, Hye Jung Han, helped expose the problem. She analyzed “less than 0.0001 percent” of LAION-5B, a dataset built from Common Crawl snapshots of the public web. The dataset does not contain the actual photos but includes image-text pairs derived from 5.85 billion images and captions posted online since 2008.

Among those images linked in the dataset, Han found 170 photos of children from at least 10 Brazilian states. These were mostly family photos uploaded to personal and parenting blogs most Internet surfers wouldn’t easily stumble upon, “as well as stills from YouTube videos with small view counts, seemingly uploaded to be shared with family and friends,” Wired reported.

LAION, the German nonprofit that created the dataset, has worked with HRW to remove the links to the children’s images in the dataset.

That may not completely resolve the problem, though. HRW’s report warned that the removed links are “likely to be a significant undercount of the total amount of children’s personal data that exists in LAION-5B.” Han told Wired that she fears that the dataset may still be referencing personal photos of kids “from all over the world.”

Removing the links also does not remove the images from the public web, where they can still be referenced and used in other AI datasets, particularly those relying on Common Crawl, LAION’s spokesperson, Nate Tyler, told Ars.

“This is a larger and very concerning issue, and as a nonprofit, volunteer organization, we will do our part to help,” Tyler told Ars.

According to HRW’s analysis, many of the Brazilian children’s identities were “easily traceable,” due to children’s names and locations being included in image captions that were processed when building the dataset.

And at a time when middle and high school-aged students are at greater risk of being targeted by bullies or bad actors turning “innocuous photos” into explicit imagery, it’s possible that AI tools may be better equipped to generate AI clones of kids whose images are referenced in AI datasets, HRW suggested.

“The photos reviewed span the entirety of childhood,” HRW’s report said. “They capture intimate moments of babies being born into the gloved hands of doctors, young children blowing out candles on their birthday cake or dancing in their underwear at home, students giving a presentation at school, and teenagers posing for photos at their high school’s carnival.”

There is less risk that the Brazilian kids’ photos are currently powering AI tools since “all publicly available versions of LAION-5B were taken down” in December, Tyler told Ars. That decision came out of an “abundance of caution” after a Stanford University report “found links in the dataset pointing to illegal content on the public web,” Tyler said, including 3,226 suspected instances of child sexual abuse material. The dataset will not be available again until LAION determines that all flagged illegal content has been removed.

“LAION is currently working with the Internet Watch Foundation, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Stanford, and Human Rights Watch to remove all known references to illegal content from LAION-5B,” Tyler told Ars. “We are grateful for their support and hope to republish a revised LAION-5B soon.”

In Brazil, “at least 85 girls” have reported classmates harassing them by using AI tools to “create sexually explicit deepfakes of the girls based on photos taken from their social media profiles,” HRW reported. Once these explicit deepfakes are posted online, they can inflict “lasting harm,” HRW warned, potentially remaining online for their entire lives.

“Children should not have to live in fear that their photos might be stolen and weaponized against them,” Han said. “The government should urgently adopt policies to protect children’s data from AI-fueled misuse.”

Ars could not immediately reach Stable Diffusion maker Stability AI for comment.

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