Culture 3 min read

New Facial Recognition App Challenges Privacy in Unprecedented Way

A startup developed a facial recognition app that raises unprecedented privacy concerns because it scrapes billions of random photos from social media.

Lia Koltyrina / Shutterstock.com

Lia Koltyrina / Shutterstock.com

A free internet that’s accessible to everyone should be regarded as a human right. However, this accessibility to the ever-growing personal content on the internet comes with high privacy concerns.

You probably never heard of Clearview AI. The said tech startup based in New York has kept a low profile until recently.

The little company is commercializing a controversial facial recognition technology that even Google and other tech giants deemed too risky.

Clearview’s Facial Recognition App Faces (Legal) Attacks

The co-founder of Clearview AI had some success before with unharmful apps. For example, the one called “Trump Hair,” which allows people to place Donald Trump’s hair on their photos.

But with Clearview, he’s dabbling his feet in dangerous waters.

Clearview has been making a name for itself among law enforcement agencies as the go-to solution to catch suspects.

According to The New York Times, Clearview had scrapped more than three billion photos from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and millions of other websites. The company uses this vast database of photos to power its face-matching app.

Cops can upload a photo of a suspect, and the app will match it to their photos available online and link back to where the images were published.

Law enforcement agencies already use similar systems. But their database is usually limited to suspects they already caught and have no access to the open web.

Homeland Security, the F.B.I., and local police departments are among the more than 600 law enforcement agencies using the app. Some law enforcement officers said the app had helped them solve many criminal cases, such as “shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder, and child sexual exploitation cases.”

The company, per the Times, declined to provide a list. But you can count New Jersey as one of the states where Clearview’s tech is unwelcome.

ACLU New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union) happily tweeted that the state’s attorney general has put a moratorium on Clearview’s AI.

Read More: Amazon to Pitch Own Facial Recognition Laws to Lawmakers

From Capitol Hill, Senator Edward Markey (Democrat, MA), wrote in a letter to Clearview:

“Any technology with the ability to collect and analyze individuals’ biometric information has alarming potential to impinge on the public’s civil liberties and privacy. Clearview’s product appears to pose particularly chilling privacy risks.”

One of the significant sites where Clearview culled photos from is Twitter, and it’s not happy with that.

Twitter said Clearview AI was violating its policies and asked it to stop “collecting faces.” It also requested the deletion of data previously collected.

On its website, Clearview states that its app searches public information only and that it’s “an after-the-fact research tool” not intended for surveillance. In its promotional material, Clearview claims 100 percent accuracy, which might be a bit exaggerated.

The company said its facial recognition app identified a terrorist in an email sent to law enforcement agencies across the 50 states. But NYPD says they didn’t use Clearview’s tech to identify the suspect.

Google, Facebook, and some other tech companies are capable of releasing such a facial recognition app, but they chose not to. Face recognition is the one tech Google is holding back.

Back in 2011, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman at the time, said Google is unlikely to release a facial recognition app, but “some company, by the way, is going to cross that line.” 

Read More: IBM Wants Face Recognition Technology Regulated

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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