Feb 8, 2020 - Technology

Tech giants hammer facial recognition startup

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

Go deeper

Clearview brings privacy concerns from facial recognition into focus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

People warning about the potentially chilling collision of big data sets and emerging technologies can now point to Clearview, the secretive facial recognition startup that scraped images from some of the largest public internet sites to create a database now used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country.

Why it matters: Facial recognition tools have already raised privacy concerns in the U.S. and abroad, particularly when they're used by government, but the controversy over Clearview has shown that both industry and law enforcement are moving faster than the debate.

Report: Full list of Clearview AI's law enforcement clients stolen

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI told its customers that its complete list of clients, which includes law enforcement agencies all over the country, was stolen in a data breach, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: An intruder gaining access to Clearview's client list will likely trigger alarm bells for both would-be customers and privacy advocates, who have already denounced the company following a New York Times report on Clearview culling more than 3 billion images from websites like Facebook to create its database.

Gillibrand proposes new Data Protection Agency

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is introducing a bill that would create the Data Protection Agency, a new federal agency with the authority to ensure businesses are transparent about data collection and the power to enforce violations.

Why it matters: The U.S. has fallen behind Europe and some states in regulating data and privacy issues, with responsibility split among several agencies, including the FCC, FTC and DOJ.