Feb 8, 2020 - Technology

Tech giants hammer facial recognition startup

An illustration of a face within data
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Venmo and LinkedIn have sent Clearview AI cease-and-desist letters in the wake of a blockbuster report that the facial recognition startup has scraped billions of people's faces from their websites, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: Clearview's app is used to identify suspected criminals by over 600 law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, per the Times.

What they're saying: Twitter has demanded that Clearview delete all data collected from its site, per AP, while YouTube said its terms "explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person."

More fallout:

  • New Jersey's attorney general banned police officers from using Clearview in January.
  • Class-action lawsuits in Illinois and Virginia have been filed against the company, the Times reports.
  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, has demanded documentation from Clearview on its data collection practices and called on committee Chair Maxine Waters to schedule a hearing on the issue.
  • Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has also asked Clearview for documentation of its customers, whether the company has detected any security breaches since it launched, and whether its facial recognition tech is currently integrated into body cameras.

The other side: Law enforcement across Canada and the U.S. told the Times that Clearview allows them to identify children subjected to sexual abuse. Officials say the app has also helped them solve murder cases as well as crimes involving identity theft, credit card fraud and shoplifting.

What to watch: Blowback against Clearview could quickly amplify support for a new flurry of state bills aimed at regulating, banning or studying facial recognition — which is not federally regulated, despite bipartisan support for its restraint.

Go deeper: Activists fight to keep face recognition off college campuses

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