Facial recognition firm Clearview has built a massive AI-powered database of billions of pictures collected from social media platforms without obtaining users’ consent.
In late March, Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told BBC in an interview that the company had obtained 30 billion photos without users’ knowledge over the years, scraped mainly from social media platforms like Facebook. He said US law enforcement agencies use the database to identify criminals.
Ton-That disputed claims that the photos were unlawfully collected. He told Bussiness Insider in an emailed statement, “Clearview AI’s database of publicly available images is lawfully collected, just like any other search engine like Google.”
However, privacy advocates and social media companies have been highly critical of Clearview AI.
“Clearview AI’s actions invade people’s privacy which is why we banned their founder from our services and sent them a legal demand to stop accessing any data, photos, or videos from our services,” a Meta spokesperson said in an email to Insider.
Ton-That told Insider the database is not publicly available and is only used by law enforcement. He said the software had been used more than a million times by police.
“Clearview AI’s database is used for after-the-crime investigations by law enforcement, and is not available to the general public. Every photo in the dataset is a potential clue that could save a life, provide justice to an innocent victim, prevent a wrongful identification, or exonerate an innocent person.”
According to critics, using Clearview AI by the police subjects everyone to a “continuous police line-up.”
“Whenever they have a photo of a suspect, they will compare it to your face,” Matthew Guariglia from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told BBC. He said, “It’s far too invasive.”
The AI-driven database has raised privacy concerns in the US to the point where Sens. Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders attempted to block its use with a bill requiring Clearview and similar companies to obtain consent before scraping biometric data.
In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Clearview AI, calling it a ‘nightmare scenario’ for privacy. The ACLU managed to ban Clearview AI’s products from being sold to private companies but not the police.
Clearview AI is a massive problem for civil liberties. The easiest way to prevent Clearview AI from scraping photos from your social media accounts is to not be on social media. Alternatively, if you wish to maintain a social media presence, ensure that the images you post are not publicly accessible on the web.