Clearview AI tells investors its database could reach 100 billion facial photos in a year, stoking privacy concerns

by Helena Morgan
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In a financial presentation from December, facial recognition technology company Clearview AI told investors it could increase its database of faces to 100 billion photos – more than enough to surveil each of the world’s seven billion people. The company, whose services are currently limited to governmental buyers, mainly law enforcement agencies, also hinted at the potential of working with gig economy workers, retail and commercial real estate industries. A handful of the companies whose logos appeared in the document as possible commercial partners have since distanced themselves from Clearview, saying they have had no contact with the company and have no intention of working with it. Founder Hoan Ton-That told the Washington Post that the company logos, which include Airbnb, Uber and Tinder parent company Match Group, were “examples of the types of firms that have expressed interest in Clearview’s facial recognition technology for the purposes of consent-based identity verification, since there are a lot of issues with crimes that happen on their platforms.”

Clearview’s existing database hit 10 billion images in 2020 and, according to the document, its data collection system adds 1.5 billion photos per month. It is seeking US$50 million in funding to reach its 100 billion target as well as introduce a range of new products and initiatives like the expansion to non-government work. Its database was built by taking images from online sources and social media platforms without the consent of the sites or their users.

Tech giants IBM, Amazon and Microsoft all limited or paused sales of facial recognition, in part due to privacy concerns, as well as a lack of federal regulation on the tech in the US.

Last November, Australia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk found that Clearview breached Australians’ privacy by scraping their biometric information from the web and disclosing it through facial recognition, with Clearview ordered to cease the collection of Australians’ images and delete all existing information collected from Australia.

It is battling legal action the world over, “New Jersey’s attorney general has ordered police not to use it,” writes Drew Harwell in the Washington Post. “In Sweden, authorities fined a local police agency for using it last year. The company is also facing a class-action suit in a Canadian federal court, government investigations in Canada, Sweden and the UK and complaints from privacy groups alleging data protection violations in France, Greece, Italy and the UK.”

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