Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That has confirmed that the company is currently in talks with multiple state and federal agencies to implement a contact tracing program to track the spread of COVID-19. The program would use facial recognition to identify people who may have interacted with someone who later tested positive for the disease.
Contact tracing programs have been an important part of the coronavirus response in other countries, and even within some states. However, Clearview’s flagrant disregard for privacy – as well as its repeated efforts to deflect public scrutiny – raise enormous red flags about its potential involvement in such a far-reaching scheme. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has asked the company to disclose the agencies participating in the talks, but Clearview has resisted any calls for transparency thus far.
That refusal has only generated more concern from the company’s critics. Despite Ton-That’s assurances, privacy watchdogs view the company’s offer as an attempt to use the pandemic to further entrench itself with government and law enforcement agencies. Thousands of agencies already have accounts registered with the company, although many of those accounts were opened during a free trial.
“What Clearview is doing is the perfect example of a company blatantly trying to exploit this crisis to sell dangerous surveillance software to the government,” said Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer, in a comment to BuzzFeed News.
“Clearview has failed to demonstrate that it can be trusted to protect Americans’ privacy,” added Markey. “I’m concerned that if this company becomes involved in our nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, its invasive technology will become normalized.”
The Vermont Attorney General is currently suing Clearview for violating the state’s Consumer Protection App. Clearview has also drawn scrutiny for lax security practices after an outside firm gained access to a cloud repository, one of several incidents that has raised questions about the company’s ability to protect people’s personal information.
North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah have launched contact tracing programs that use GPS data from mobile phones instead of facial recognition. Apple and Google have unveiled a similar scheme that utilizes Bluetooth proximity data to ensure people’s privacy.
May 1, 2020 – by Eric Weiss