Clearview AI has run afoul of yet another Silicon Valley titan. Apple has suspended Clearview’s developer account for behavior that violates the company’s App Store policy guidelines.
The suspension specifically relates to Clearview’s alleged abuse of the Apple developer program, which allows companies to share an app internally. The feature allows developers to preview and debug an app before it goes live on the App Store. However, companies are not allowed to use the developer program to distribute an app to the general public.
Clearview seems to have done exactly that. It essentially used the platform as a form of advertising, sending previews of its facial recognition system to potential customers like Immigration Customs and Enforcement and the FBI.
Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That argues that the version of the app that was distributed through the developer program cannot be used to carry out searches without a valid Clearview account, although that rationale is at least somewhat questionable. If the allegations are true, Clearview was openly using the developer program to distribute its app to external parties, largely in an effort to drive future sales. That would still seem to be a flagrant violation of Apple policies, even if the people receiving the app were not able to use it as intended.
It’s also worth noting that the Clearview app may be easier to use than Ton-That claims. Reporters have uncovered a public web page that walks people through the steps needed to gain authorization and use the app on an iPhone. Similar resources exist for desktop and Android users, thereby allowing regular citizens to take advantage of the platform.
Clearview has 14 days to contest Apple’s decision. Ton-That says that his company is currently working with the tech giant to better comply with their terms of service, although Clearview has not had much regard for terms of service in the past. The company scraped other websites to put its database together, drawing cease and desist letters from Twitter and Google in addition to a slightly less forceful request from Facebook.
The suspension comes shortly after the leak of Clearview’s entire client list, which revealed that many Clearview accounts belong to individual employees who acted without the knowledge of a parent organization. That makes Clearview’s alleged misuse of an enterprise development platform even more suspect, if only because many of the people using the app are not official corporate partners.
March 3, 2020 – by Eric Weiss