Few companies would proudly tout their business plan as offering more comprehensive surveillance than China, but that’s exactly what Clearview AI is doing.
Clearview AI gained fame and notoriety for scraping images from popular websites and social media platforms in an effort to build a massive database of photos for facial recognition — and in violation of those platforms’ terms. The company claimed to only provide its software to law enforcement and government agencies, but reports indicate it was far more loose than it admitted, in terms of who had access to its platform. In addition, the company was found to be working with various authoritarian regimes.
As if the company couldn’t become anymore controversial, The Washington Post reports the company is proudly calling its surveillance platform more comprehensive than similar systems in China, thanks to the “public source metadata” and “social linkage” information the company bases its product on.
Clearview is also working to establish itself as the leader in the field, at a time when the industry leaders are taking a more responsible, measured approach to facial recognition. Clearview, in contrast, sees Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM’s cautious approach as a market opportunity, as it seeks to gain investment for a massive expansion effort.
What’s more, accord to The Post, the company is sending out conflicting messages about its plans. Until now, Clearview has promised it will only sell to law enforcement and government agencies. In the presentation material view by The Post, however, government contracts are shown as only making up a small portion of the company’s potential market. The presentation material discusses building out the company’s personnel, specifically to target the financial and commercial market. Even more alarming, Clearview wants to build a “developer ecosystem” to help other companies use its database in their own products.
Jack Poulson, a former Google research scientist and current head of research advocacy group Tech Inquiry, asked if there was anything “they wouldn’t sell this mass surveillance for? If they’re selling it for just regular commercial uses, that’s just mass surveillance writ large. It’s not targeted toward the most extreme cases, as they’ve pledged in the past.”
Clearview’s unethical behavior and irresponsible approach to privacy and data security, not to mention the legal implications of its data collection, have already led to multiple lawsuits, investigations, and bans in some countries and jurisdictions.
Here’s to hoping more countries crack down on this bottom-feeder.