Clearview AI Offers to Eliminate Public Anonymity and Destroy Privacy around the World for a Mere $50 Million

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PIA blog first wrote about the facial recognition start-up Clearview AI two years ago, when news about its huge database of three billion facial images appeared. Its main market is currently law enforcement, with which it has already had considerable success in the US. But two years is a long time in digital technology, and Clearview AI is moving forward. In October last year, its co-founder and CEO, Hoan Ton-That, told Wired that his company had now collected more than ten billion images. It was also working on new technologies, including “deblur” and “mask removal” tools. Around the same time, Clearview AI’s system was tested independently by the The National Institute of Standards and Technology, and fared “surprisingly well“. In January of this year, the company was awarded a US patent for its identification technology, specifically for its ability “to gather publicly available information from the open internet (social media sites, mugshots, news sites and more) and then accurately match similar photos using its proprietary facial recognition algorithm.”

That approach of scraping facial images from public sites is highly controversial, and has led to considerable pushback across the spectrum. Early on, Twitter, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn all told the company to stop harvesting photos from their services. In June 2020, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), an independent European body that contributes to the consistent application of data protection rules throughout the European Union, wrote:

Without prejudice to further analysis on the basis of additional elements provided, the EDPB is

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