A US startup that uses artificial intelligence to identify faces must stop doing business with other companies. Clearview AI is controversial again
Uploading their photos to social networks, almost no one looks into the regulations of the portals. Something somewhere, GDPR and data protection, so nobody cares about the consequences. Later it turns out that the photos were used without our consent and nothing can be done about it, because when they were made available, they were placed on open Internet resources. Based on this, Clearview AI complements its extensive databases. The company provides software that private and public entities use to recognize faces using biometric data. Well, it’s only public now, as the controversial technology has just been banned from private entities. And it’s all down to citizen action.
Clearview AI installs. Biometric data reserved for public authorities
I have written about Clearview AI before in the context of the war in Ukraine. The American company has offered our eastern neighbors access to algorithms capable of identifying citizens using data collected, among other things, from social networking sites. Ukraine is currently using it to monitor refugee routes and find family members separated by the escalation of war. However, not everyone is happy with this technology. Since 2020, the company has been embroiled in legal battles with the American Civil Liberties Union, which accused Clearview AI of illegally monetizing the images of billions of users. The algorithms use photos from Facebook or Russian VKontakte to supplement the biometric libraries used by the facial recognition algorithm. The company defended itself through cooperation with law enforcement and the pro-civilian intent of the project, but these lofty goals went hand in hand with selling software to private entities as well.
After two years of legal battles, Clearview AI agreed to a settlement in which the company pledged to ban the sale of access to a massive photo database from most private entities in the United States. The regulation includes not only a ban on doing business, but also a ban on contact with other businesses, including government employees who do not act on behalf of public employers. In addition, Clearview AI has also approved a five-year ban on cooperation with any Illinois state or local government agency. The icing on the cake is the removal of state residents from the photo system and a ban on future photo gatherings. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union see it as a significant success and a clear sign that corporations cannot treat citizen images as an unlimited source of revenue.
The dark sides of Clearview AI
This is not the first time that a company owned by Hoan Ton-That has faced justice. In March, the Italian data protection authority fined Clearview AI €20 million and ordered the removal from the database of any photographs of individuals taken on Italian social media. It is the result of a joint coalition of European countries targeting the illegal activities of an American startup. In addition to the aforementioned Italy, France, Austria, Greece and the United Kingdom have joined the complaints.
Clearview AI is not having an easy time both in its own market and in Europe. The situation is not improved by the controversial figure of the company’s founder, Hoan Ton-That, who is said to be linked to the far right and racist groups. The company already has access to more than 10 billion biometric data uploaded from various types of social platforms and plans to expand the database to 100 billion items. International entities are calling for regulation because so far this practice has taken place without any supervision.
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