Clearview AI is once again drawing the ire of privacy advocates. The latest controversy kicked off after the publication of an extremely broad patent application for a system that would combine a facial recognition system with a web crawler.
For critics, the application is concerning because of its invasive nature, and because it suggests that Clearview is engaging in duplicitous business practices. The company filed the application in August of 2020, several months after it announced that it would stop doing business with private entities and focus only on government and law enforcement contracts.
The application indicates that the company remains focused on the private sector, and that it is still looking to pursue the same strategy that generated backlash in the first place. Clearview’s database includes more than 3 billion images scraped from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, nearly all of which were gathered without consent and in violation of various terms of service. The new application would seem to extend that practice, and take it one step further to provide users with the identifying information of search subjects based on those results. The patent does not provide any details about how non-users could opt out of such a system.
“In a lot of these types of applications, you’ll see a lot about privacy, you’ll see a lot about consent — there’s nothing in there that I can see about that,” said Studebaker & Brackett attorney David J. Stein. “There’s only one very brief and tangential reference to [acknowledge] that maybe there can be privacy settings. And there’s just no detail about it whatsoever.”
According to the patent, the new system would essentially serve as a face-based background check. Clearview claims that it would be able to determine whether someone is homeless or a drug addict, or even whether they have a mental illness, based on facial characteristics. The company believes that its solution could have applications in a wide variety of industries, from dating sites to real estate and retail. In the latter instances, companies could use the system to create and share watchlists of high-risk individuals.
Such a system raises obvious concerns about profiling and potential bias. The Council of Europe recently asked for a ban on facial recognition solutions that try to classify people based on factors like race, age, health, and religious affiliation.
Clearview, on the other hand, seems unconcerned with such issues. The company claimed that it has no plans to launch a commercial version of its product, but did not clarify why its new patent places such a strong emphasis on such applications. The company has provided services to private companies in the past, and listed Macy’s as a paying customer.
Both Macy’s and Clearview are now facing BIPA lawsuits in Illinois. Canada’s privacy commissioner has also determined that the company’s system violates its federal privacy laws.
Source: Buzzfeed News
February 16, 2021 – by Eric Weiss