Clearview AI Courts Investors While Facing Privacy Pushback

Clearview AI is positioning itself for a major expansion that is already generating major controversy. At a December financial presentation, the New York-based firm reportedly predicted it will have 100 billion facial images in its database by the end of 2022 — or about 14 photos for each of the earth’s 7 billion people. And there is said to have been talk of surveilling gig economy workers, identifying people based on how they walk and remotely scanning fingerprints. While the company’s 34-year-old founder and chief exec Hoan Ton-That is careful to present the firm as a crime-fighting tool, its broader implications are chilling.

Reporting on the contents of a 55-page “pitch deck” to which it gained access, The Washington Post did not miss the irony in Clearview’s planned expansion being “funded in large part by government contracts and the taxpayers the system would be used to monitor,” couching its observation by adding that “it is unclear how realistic its goals might be.”

Congress recently warned federal agencies to cease working with Clearview, claiming its “technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States,” The Post writes.

While the U.S. currently has no federal law regulating the use of facial recognition technology, “the biggest tech giants, including Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft have limited or ended sales of the technology, saying they are worried about its risks or do not want to sell it to the public before Congress has established rules,” says WaPo.

Clearview spins the caution of its potential competitors as a huge business opportunity for itself. Having collected most of its images by scraping social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the company proclaims its product is “even more comprehensive than systems in use in China, because its ‘facial database’ is connected to ‘public source metadata’ and ‘social linkage’ information,” The Post writes.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms has banned Clearview from its sites, including Instagram, and sent cease and desist letters citing terms of use that prohibit unauthorized copying.

Clearview “is battling a wave of legal action in state and federal courts, including lawsuits in California, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Virginia. New Jersey’s attorney general has ordered police not to use it,” The Post reports.

The company also faces a Canadian class-action suit and government investigations in Canada, Sweden and the UK, while in Australia and France lawmakers “have ordered Clearview to delete their citizens’ data, saying the company had covertly monetized people’s faces for a purpose ‘outside reasonable expectations.’”

In the U.S., senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) “last year introduced a bill that would block public money from going to Clearview on the basis that its data was ‘illegitimately obtained,’” The Post says. Clearview counters that its data harvesting is protected by the First Amendment.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, “the judge in the federal cases rejected Clearview’s First Amendment defense, denied the company’s motion to dismiss, and allowed the lawsuits to move forward,” calling the ruling “an important victory” and characterizing face surveillance as “a growing menace to racial justice, privacy, free speech, and information security.”

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