It looks like Clearview AI is about to patent technology that has been key to making the company controversial.
According to a report from Politico, the company has received a “notice of allowance” from the US Patent and Trademark Office concerning a patent application that covers its “methods of providing information about a person based on facial recognition,” with a core component being its automated web crawler that is designed to collect face images from across the internet, including from social media platforms. The notice means that the patent has effectively been approved, with Clearview only required to pay administrative fees to make it official.
The system that the patent describes is what has gotten Clearview AI into so much trouble over the past couple of years. The company has collected a huge trove of images of individuals, indiscriminately and without their consents, for use in a facial recognition system that it has sold to police and private corporations. Law enforcement agencies have been using facial recognition technology for many years now, often attracting controversy in the process themselves, but Clearview’s system has heightened ethical concerns by subjecting presumably innocent individuals to this technology by default.
These concerns have led to outrage, investigations, and fines around the world, especially in jurisdictions with strong privacy protections and regulatory oversight. And while Clearview has pulled its technology out of certain markets, it has generally carried on with its longstanding business model, and even raised $30 million in a Series B funding round this past summer. The company’s leadership have argued that all of the images it collects are in the public domain, freely shared by users on the internet.
Receiving approval for a patent covering the most problematic components of its technology won’t necessarily change anything about Clearview’s operations. But it does appear to offer a kind validation for what Clearview is doing from a federal government agency.
Beyond that, the patent itself may hint at plans to expand the applications of Clearview’s biometric platform. As Politico notes, the patent application suggests that its facial recognition system could help “an individual to know more about a person that they meet, such as through business, dating, or other relationship.” If Clearview does not succumb to regulatory penalties and the various other forms of pushback it has been receiving over its services to law enforcement and retailers, it may intrude into new business areas as well.
December 6, 2021 – by Alex Perala