Civil society & social media companies raise human rights concerns about Clearview AI's online mining of data & potential expansion plans

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10 February 2020

The ACLU slammed a facial recognition company that scrapes photos from Instagram & Facebook

Author: Caroline Haskins, Ryan Mac & Logan McDonald, BuzzFeed News

Clearview AI... has been telling prospective law enforcement clients that a review of its software based on “methodology used by the American Civil Liberties Union” is stunningly accurate... But the ACLU said that claim is highly misleading and noted that Clearview's effort to mimic the methodology of its 2018 facial recognition study was a misguided attempt in “manufacturing endorsements." “The report is absurd on many levels and further demonstrates that Clearview simply does not understand the harms of its technology in law enforcement hands,” [said] ACLU Northern California attorney Jacob Snow.

... Clearview, which claims to be working with more than 600 law enforcement agencies, has also been sued and publicly denounced by critics including New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who ordered a moratorium on the state’s use of the technology... Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and PayPal had all sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview... 

... “The ACLU is a highly-respected institution that conducted its own widely distributed test of facial recognition for accuracy across demographic groups,” Ton-That told BuzzFeed News. “We appreciated the ACLU’s efforts to highlight the potential for demographic bias in AI, which is why we applied their test and methodology to our own technology.”

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6 February 2020

Twitter, Google, Venmo & Facebook ask Clearview to stop mining their data for its facial recognition tool

Author: Aaron Mak, Slate

"Clearview’s Terrifying Facial Recognition Can’t Go Back in the Bottle", 6 February 2020

[H]alf a dozen big tech companies have now demanded that Clearview AI... [a company] that has scraped more than 3 billion images of people from millions of websites, stop using their data... [Investigation by The New York] Times found that the company has been marketing its powerful facial recognition tool to law enforcement for the last few years... 

... [The] immediate react to the report was: Facial-recognition technology should be banned... The week after the report came out, Twitter sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company ordering it to stop mining the social media platform’s data and delete anything it had already collected... Google, its subsidiary YouTube, and Venmno sent their own cease-and-desist letters, and LinkedIn told BuzzFeed on Thursday that it had done the same. Facebook notably has not sent a formal cease-and-desist letter but claims to have sent other letters to Clearview to request more detail on its practices and then eventually “demanded” that it stop scraping user data... [Hon Ton-That, app developer and co founder of Clearview said] “You have to remember that this is only used for investigations after the fact. This is not a 24/7 surveillance system.”

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5 February 2020

Clearview AI wants to sell its facial recognition software to authoritarian regimes around the world

Author: Caroline Haskins, Ryan Mac & Logan McDonald, BuzzFeed News

A document obtained via a public records request reveals that Clearview has been touting a “rapid international expansion”... to at least 22 more countries, some of which have committed human rights abuses. The document... includes the United Arab Emirates, a country historically hostile to political dissidents, and Qatar and Singapore, the penal codes of which criminalize homosexuality... Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That declined to explain whether Clearview is currently working in these countries or hopes to work in them. He did confirm that the company, which had previously claimed that it was working with 600 law enforcement agencies, has relationships with two countries on the map. “Clearview is focused on doing business in USA and Canada,” Ton-That said. “Many countries from around the world have expressed interest in Clearview.”

Albert Fox Cahn, a fellow at New York University and the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project [said]... “It’s deeply alarming that they would sell this technology in countries with such a terrible human rights track record, enabling potentially authoritarian behavior by other nations."... The company, which has received cease-and-desist orders from TwitterYouTube, and Facebook argues that it has a First Amendment right to harvest data from social media. “There is also a First Amendment right to public information,” Ton-That told CBS NewsWednesday. “So the way we have built our system is to only take publicly available information and index it that way.”

... [According to Cahn] “Just because Clearview may have a right to scrape some of this data, that doesn’t mean that they have an immunity from lawsuits from those of us whose information is being sold without our consent.”

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18 January 2020

Use of Clearview AI's facial recognition app by law enforcement raises surveillance & privacy-related concerns

Author: Kashmir Hill, The New York Times

"The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It", 18 January 2020

Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app... [The] backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites... Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes...  It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color... “Laws have to determine what’s legal, but you can’t ban technology. Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but you can’t ban it.” [said Mr. David Scalzo, one of the founders of Clearview]... 

The Indiana State Police became Clearview’s first paying customer... Federal law enforcement, including the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, are trying it, as are Canadian law enforcement authorities, according to the company and government officials... “We have no data to suggest this tool is accurate,” said Clare Garvie, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology... Mr. Clement [a United States solicitor] said law enforcement agencies “do not violate the federal Constitution or relevant existing state biometric and privacy laws when using Clearview for its intended purpose.”... “There’s always going to be a community of bad people who will misuse it,” [said Mr. Ton-That, in response to the app being available to the public].

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