Clearview AI is trying to improve its image with some new features that are designed to prevent police abuses of its technology. Most notably, the update will ask officers to input a case number and a crime each time they use the facial recognition platform to conduct a search.
In theory, the feature will improve transparency and accountability because it will create an auditable record of search events. Clearview will also offer training to teach officers how to use its facial recognition software in an ethical and conscientious manner.
While the decision is a long overdue nod to privacy, there is reason to doubt the company’s motivations. For one thing, Clearview still refused to be accountable for any abuses of its system, saying that individual agencies would be responsible for implementing and enforcing privacy policies. In doing so, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That essentially tried to wipe his hands of any responsibility, arguing that civil rights violations will rest with police departments even though his company built a system that enables such abuses.
“It’s not our job to set the policy as a tech company,” Ton-That said during The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live virtual conference. “It’s up to us to help them execute what they want to do.”
Those comments are even more concerning given the company’s questionable ethical history. Clearview ignored privacy and consent when it compiled its facial recognition database, scraping billions of images from sites like Facebook and YouTube without informing the platforms that hosted the images or the people in them. It then gave out free trials to anyone with a law enforcement email address, often going outside official channels to get its system into the hands of officers without the knowledge of department regulators.
With that in mind, the fact that Clearview will now be offering ethics training is unlikely to placate those who have criticized the company for its dubious ethical judgment. The company has displayed a limited understanding of privacy issues in the past, and consequently may not be qualified to speak to the concerns of the broader public.
Clearview is now facing privacy investigations and class action lawsuits in several different countries, and has suspended service in multiple jurisdictions in an effort to avoid more permanent injunctions. However, that does not seem to have diminished the company’s financial prospects, with Clearview recently announcing that it brought in $8.6 million from unnamed investors in its latest funding round.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
October 21, 2020 – by Eric Weiss