Clearview AI agrees to stop selling to private entities

Hoan Ton-That
FILE – Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, demonstrates the company’s facial recognition software using a photo of himself in New York on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. In a Monday, May 9, 2022 legal filing, the company has agreed to restrict the use of its massive collection of face images to settle allegations that it collected people’s photos without their consent. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company with a database of more than 10 billion facial images, agreed in a legal settlement filed Monday to stop providing its product to businesses and other private actors.

The settlement was reached in a case alleging the company violated Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), considered the strongest data privacy law in the country.

The case, brought by a coalition of civil society groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), alleged that Clearview was illegally scraping images of Illinois residents from the internet without their knowledge or permission.

“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,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement. 

“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,” he added. 

There are no federal laws restricting how facial recognition can be developed or deployed, although some cities and states have filled in that vacuum.

Clearview is one of the most well-known facial recognition technology vendors, primarily because of the massive database it has amassed by scraping images of faces from the web. The company has told investors it is on track to have more than 100 billion scans in its database within a year.

As part of the settlement, the company will be barred from providing free or paid access to its database to private companies or individuals nationwide.

It will also be banned from providing law enforcement or government agencies within Illinois for the next five years. Residents of Illinois will have the option to block their faces from appearing in Clearview search results.

Clearview founder Hoan Ton-That has maintained that the tool is invaluable to crime fighting and that the company sells only to law enforcement. The company claims it works with more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

The firm worked with private businesses in the past, however, with a BuzzFeed News report finding it has accounts with stores and banks such as Walmart and Bank of America. 

Clearview is also facing lawsuits in California, New York, Vermont and Virginia. International governments such as the United Kingdom and Canada are investing in the company as well.

The Hill has reached out to Clearview for comment on the settlement.

Tags American Civil Liberties Union Clearview AI data privacy Hoan Ton-That

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