Clearview AI Used By Corporate Investors for Fun At Parties

We’re getting a clearer picture of who uses Clearview AI. It seems that the ultra wealthy were using it for fun at so-called “parties”.

If you’ve been following the Clearview AI story for some time like us, you’ll know that a common theme for who uses it are police forces. This happened in Canada and the US. The pattern is very familiar: It was like a closely guarded secret, but when the officers were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they quickly used the common refrain that it was “just a trial” run and nothing more.

So, you could be forgiven into thinking that law enforcement are the only clientele for Clearview AI. As it turns out, that is not the case. It seems that there are plenty of others who used Clearview AI who have nothing to do with law enforcement. From CNet:

Before Clearview AI became the target of public scrutiny earlier this year, the facial recognition app was used freely by the company’s investors, clients and friends, according to a report Thursday from The New York Times. The app was reportedly demonstrated at events like parties, business gatherings and even on dates.

“As part of the ordinary course of due diligence, we provided trial accounts to potential and current investors, and other strategic partners, so they could test the technology,” Hoan Ton-That, Clearview’s CEO, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

The Times also said it’s identified “multiple individuals with active access to Clearview’s technology” who aren’t members of law enforcement. In January, Clearview said its search engine is available only to law enforcement agencies and select security professionals as a tool to aid investigations.

In addition to law enforcement agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI using the software, BuzzFeed News last month reported that the app has been used by people working at Macy’s, Walmart and other retailers.

There are a number of takeaways from this. Essentially, the super wealthy were more or less having surveillance parties. In addition, some were even using the software when going out on dates. For a lot of people, law enforcement using Clearview AI is creepy enough. Super wealthy using the software while on dates is probably going to be even creepier still. In defence of their clients, Clearview AI is saying that, don’t worry, these are just trial accounts. This is the exact same excuse that law enforcement used when they got busted using the software. It really makes one wonder what is going on in all of this at bare minimum.

What’s more is that the article notes how social media is not exactly a fan of Clearview AI on top of it all. The article reference this story back in February:

Google, YouTube and Facebook have sent a cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI, the facial recognition company that has been scraping billions of photos off the internet and using it to help more than 600 police departments identify people within seconds.

That follows a similar action by Twitter, which sent Clearview AI a cease-and-desist letter for its data scraping in January. The letter from Google-owned YouTube was first seen by CBS News.

The CEO of Clearview AI, a controversial and secretive facial recognition startup, is defending his company’s massive database of searchable faces, saying in an interview on CBS This Morning Wednesday that it’s his First Amendment right to collect public photos. He also has compared the practices to what Google does with its search engine.

Here is YouTube’s full statement:

“YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person. Clearview has publicly admitted to doing exactly that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter. And comparisons to Google Search are inaccurate. Most websites want to be included in Google Search, and we give webmasters control over what information from their site is included in our search results, including the option to opt-out entirely. Clearview secretly collected image data of individuals without their consent, and in violation of rules explicitly forbidding them from doing so.”

This alone paints a pretty bleak picture for the company in that they don’t exactly have very many allies in all of this. It might have been possible to simply start forming relationships with various platforms and broker a deal in all of this. After all, given what Facebook has done in the past, such a method would theoretically be possible. Just broker a deal and coordinate with law enforcement to keep everything in the up-and-up. Unfortunately for the company, that doesn’t sound like that happened. So, it really is no surprise that platforms are not hesitating on sending cease and desist orders.

Now that things have blown up like the way they have, we could see a whole surveillance industry go up in flames just as it was building up to be viable. For those who support the right to privacy, that really isn’t a bad thing. For them, the sooner this practice is effectively outlawed, the better.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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