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May 10, 2022

Join Axios’ Ashley Gold and Margaret Talev Thursday at 8:00am ET for an event unpacking the arguments of lawmakers and industry players on both sides of tech’s antitrust debate.

  • Guests include Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Federal Trade Commission commissioner Noah J. Phillips.
  • Register here to attend in-person or virtually.

Today's newsletter is 1,175 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Clearview deal highlights lack of face recognition rules

Illustration of a gavel with a facial recognition frame tracing its shape
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A settlement between Clearview AI and civil rights groups that restricts the company's sale of its facial recognition technology to private companies also spotlights the glaring lack of federal rules governing biometric information.

Why it matters: Facial recognition could offer huge benefits — everything from speeding commerce to solving crimes. But it also raises huge red flags over user privacy as well as the technology's record of bias, particularly against people of color.

Driving the news: Clearview and various groups, including the ACLU, announced a deal on Monday to settle a suit brought in May 2020 on behalf of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors as well as sex workers and others vulnerable to having their images catalogued.

  • The suit was filed in Illinois, which has uniquely strong regulations limiting how facial images, fingerprints, voiceprints and other identifying personal information can be collected, shared and stored.

Terms of the deal:

  • Clearview won't sell its full facial recognition database and algorithm to private companies for use in the U.S.
  • The company will also cease selling access to its database of faces to any entity in Illinois, including state and local police, for five years.
  • Those in Illinois can also opt out of being included in Clearview's database. (Ironically, they will have to submit a photo ID to be removed.)

Catch up quick: Clearview AI has one of the largest databases of human faces, largely built by scraping photos from online sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Venmo.

  • It sells its technology primarily as a subscription service to law enforcement agencies, though it also has broader commercial ambitions.
  • The firm told investors in December that "almost everyone in the world will be identifiable" after it collects its targeted 100 billion facial photos, the Washington Post reported.

Between the lines: Clearview offered three different statements — one from its CEO and two from its lawyers — playing up how little this change will affect the company's operations.

  • CEO Hoan Ton-That says Clearview plans to sell a portion of its facial recognition technology to businesses, even if it can't sell its database of faces.

The big picture: The suit was only possible because of the Illinois law, showing the power state legislation can have even in the absence of federal rules.

  • "It speaks how important it is for states to step in and fill the gap that's been left by Congress' inability to pass strong privacy laws," Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Axios.

Yes, but: Only Congress can set nationwide rules, and only it has the power to address how the federal government makes use of facial recognition.

  • Federal agencies say they plan to increase their use of facial recognition technology.
  • "Surveillance partnerships between private companies and governments are a far-reaching threat to privacy, racial justice, free speech, and information security," said Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Adam Schwartz.

Be smart: By settling now, Clearview avoided having to share more details on how it used Facebook and other services to build its algorithm.

  • "We didn't get far enough in discovery to learn information about how that algorithm was developed or trained," Wessler acknowledged.

What's next: The company still faces challenges to the use of its technology in the U.S. and abroad.

2. Match Group sues Google over in-app payment

Illustration of the Google "G" logo turning into a stop sign.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Match Group sued Google in federal court Monday, charging that the tech giant unfairly forces apps to use its payment system, Axios' Ashley Gold reports.

Driving the news: Match is alleging Google violated federal and state antitrust law by requiring certain app developers "to exclusively use Google Play Billing to process payments."

  • Match argues that Google had previously said its app could use Match's own in-app payment systems for purchases. Now, all apps that sell "digital goods and services" must switch to use Google Play Billing exclusively by June 1, a policy change that Match refers to as a "bait and switch."

Why it matters: Match's lawsuit escalates smaller developers' rebellion against the Google and Apple app stores, as proposed legislation in many countries aims to rein then in.

  • Match has also complained about Apple's insistence that developers use Apple's in-app payment systems and pay Apple a cut.

What they're saying: "If Google is allowed to enforce this mandate, Match Group would suffer irreparable damage to its customer relationships, reputation, business performance, and goodwill and its users will be harmed by increased prices and Google's monetization of their data."

The other side: "This is just a continuation of Match Group’s self-interested campaign to avoid paying for the significant value they receive from the mobile platforms they've built their business on," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Grindr, the LGBTQ dating app, is planning to go public, becoming the third dating giant to do so in the past three years.

3. Exclusive: AT&T launches 911 location service

An illustration of a smartphone with a siren on its screen.
Illustration: Allie Carl

AT&T said Tuesday a new nationwide service will route 911 calls from its wireless subscribers to the closest dispatch center, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: 911 calls from wireless phones are typically routed based on the closest cell tower, which means that sometimes callers are transferred from one dispatch center to another when they seek help, introducing potential delay.

What's happening: The new service will more quickly and accurately identify the location of a wireless 911 call and deliver it to the correct call center, AT&T said in a statement.

  • The location-based routing, which uses technology from Intrado that relies on GPS and other data, can identify a device's location within 50 meters.
  • Calls that are routed based on the location of cell towers, which can cover up to a 10-mile radius, can cause delays in emergency response if they are made in border areas where jurisdictions may overlap.

The big picture: The nation's 911 system has struggled to advance at the speed of current technology.

  • Congress contemplated a $10 billion upgrade for next-generation 911 — to allow dispatch centers to receive texts and videos and seamlessly share data between them.
  • Lawmakers ultimately slashed that funding as part of a doomed attempt to advance the Build Back Better Act last year.

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission sought comment in 2018 on location-based routing of 911 calls, but did not adopt rules.

  • In 2020, T-Mobile announced location-based routing of emergency calls to next-generation 911 centers.
  • AT&T says its service will be rolled out to all customers by the end of June.

4. Take note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Workplace mental health startup Modern Health has hired former Sprout Social product chief Maureen Calabrese as its chief people officer.

ICYMI

  • Uber is the latest tech company announcing plans to slow hiring. (Axios)
  • Canada's competition bureau is seeking to block a merger between Rogers and Shaw, two of the country's biggest telecom carriers. (Canadian Press)

5. After you Login

2022 got you down? You aren’t alone. Even Mario is feeling it.

P.S. Thanks to those who pointed out that the internet live stats page I shared is a little out of date, as clearly evidenced by the fact it shows continuously growing numbers of Google+ users.