Clearview AI to stop selling its controversial facial recognition technology to US firms

Clearview AI to stop selling its controversial facial recognition technology to US firms

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Clearview AI Inc. today agreed that it will not sell its facial recognition technology to most private firms in the U.S. in a settlement that was reached at a federal court in Illinois.

The company came under the spotlight in 2020 when its database containing billions of faces was breached. Those faces were scraped from social media. At the time, privacy advocates in the U.S. condemned Clearview AI and sometime later the company announced that it was “canceling the accounts of every customer who was not either associated with law enforcement or some other federal, state, or local government department, office, or agency.”

Also in 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Clearview AI stating that it had taken all those images without people’s consent. The ACLU said that was in violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, BIPA, what was called a groundbreaking bit of legislation at a time when many Americans were worried about such tech. Prior to the lawsuit, buyers of the technology included the Chicago Police Department and the office of the Illinois Secretary of State.

The settlement today doesn’t just mean that selling the software in the state of Illinois is banned, but all over the U.S. It was also agreed that for a period of five years, it can’t be sold to any entity in the state of Illinois, including the police. The permanent ban on selling to most businesses and other private entities is nationwide, with the few exceptions to the rule stated in BIPA.

“By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ pathbreaking biometric privacy law not just in the state, but across the country, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”

Other companies indeed have felt the heat from privacy advocates and the public alike, with Inc. in 2021 suppressing the use of its “Rekognition” facial recognition software after facing mounting criticism. IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have also scaled back the development of such tech, again after pressure from various critics who often invoked the term “Orwellian.”

Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr

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