Clearview AI has officially patented its controversial data harvesting system. The company’s patent application was first published in February of 2021, and was granted a notice of allowance by the US Patent and Trademark Office in December. That notice was essentially a stamp of approval, pending the payment of some administrative fees to wrap everything up.
The latest news indicates that Clearview has cleared that final bureaucratic hurdle. Patent No. 11,250,266 has been granted for “Methods for Providing Information About a Person Based on Facial Recognition,” which means that Clearview can now count its web crawler as a genuine piece of intellectual property.
In that regard, Clearview’s approach to data collection distinguishes its patent from other facial recognition systems. The patent specifically describes a system that trawls the internet for photos, and then matches those photos to existing photos in the Clearview database. Clearview’s system pulls those photos from virtually any public-facing website, including social media platforms, news sites, and mug shot postings, and the company has used it to compile a database with more than 10 billion images.
While Clearview argues that those photos are free for public use, many sites have explicit terms of service that bar third parties from using photos uploaded to their platforms for their own commercial purposes. Clearview has received cease and desist orders from major players like Google and Twitter, though the fact that the company’s database only contained 3 billion images in early 2020 suggests that Clearview has largely ignored those requests.
It’s also worth noting that Clearview’s position has thus far proven to be legally tenuous at best. Privacy commissioners in Canada, Australia, and France have all ruled that the company’s practices violate their respective privacy laws. Each has ordered Clearview to cease operations in their country, and to delete any images of their citizens. In the meantime, Clearview is still facing similar lawsuits in Europe and the United States.
February 1, 2022 – by Eric Weiss