By MATT O’BRIEN and TALI ARBEL, AP Technology Writers
NEW YORK (AP) — A controversial facial recognition company that has built a massive photographic dossier of the world’s population for use by police, national governments and — more recently — Ukraine’s military now plans to offer its technology to banks and other private companies.
Clearview AI co-founder and CEO Hoan Ton-That disclosed the plans Friday to The Associated Press to clarify a recent federal court filing suggesting the company was for sale.
“We have no intention of selling the business,” he said. Instead, he said the New York startup was looking to launch a new business venture to compete with Amazon and Microsoft in verifying people’s identities using facial recognition.
The new ‘consent-based’ product would use Clearview’s algorithms to verify a person’s face, but would not involve its ever-growing trove of some 20 billion images, which Ton-That says is reserved for law enforcement. These identity verifications that can be used to validate banking transactions or for other business purposes are the “least controversial use case” of facial recognition, he said.
This contrasts with the business practice that Clearview is best known for: collecting huge amounts of images posted on Facebook, YouTube and just about anywhere else on the publicly accessible internet.
Regulators from Australia to Canada, France and Italy have taken action to try to prevent Clearview from inserting people’s faces into its facial recognition engine without their consent. The same goes for tech giants like Google and Facebook. Earlier this year, a group of US lawmakers warned that “Clearview AI technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States.”
Despite opposition from lawmakers, regulators, privacy advocates and the websites it harvests for data, Clearview has continued to rack up new contracts with police departments and other government agencies. Meanwhile, its growing database has helped Clearview’s AI technology learn and become more accurate.
One of his largest known federal contracts is with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – specifically its investigative arm, which has used technology to track down both victims and perpetrators of sexual exploitation. of children. In March, Clearview also began offering its services for free to the Ukrainian military, in part to help identify dead Russian soldiers using Clearview’s repository of approximately 2 billion images pulled from the Russian social media website. VKontakte.
“They were able to identify corpses, even with facial lesions,” Ton-That said on Friday.
Official minutes of a March 17 hearing in Chicago federal court said Clearview AI was “considering selling the app platform to other entities,” citing one of the attorneys who defended the company in a case involving an alleged breach of an Illinois digital privacy. law.
The minutes also said the “sale of Clearview’s app” would be discussed further once the company discloses more details to plaintiffs. Illinois’ biometric information privacy law allows consumers to sue companies that don’t get permission before collecting data such as faces and fingerprints.
Ton-That said the court record incorrectly reported what the company was trying to tell the judge about potentially expanding its business beyond law enforcement uses.
“We let the court know that we were exploring this idea,” he said Friday, noting the company’s previous claims that it only sells its services to law enforcement.
Asked about future business applications during an interview with the AP in late February, Ton-That highlighted his company’s focus on police work.
“We’re really focused on law enforcement right now,” he said, describing how the company’s mission changed from business enforcement to helping solve crimes.
“We looked at all different types of use cases: building security, ID checks, even hotels, hospitality,” he said. “But when we gave that to law enforcement, we immediately saw such incredible success where they were able to identify so many victims of the crime or the perpetrators of it that it was sort of a obvious at this point to really focus on this type of use case.
He added at the time that if the company turned to other uses, it would notify the public and the courts. He downplayed what he described as the “lofty goals” Clearview presented to potential investors in a document the Washington Post reported in February.
The Post said the company’s December financial presentation offered a variety of potential business uses for Clearview technology, including monitoring workers in the “gig economy” or providing companies with “real-time alerts” if certain people were detected, and boasted a face-image database that is becoming so large that “almost everyone in the world will be identifiable”.
A lawyer representing activists suing Clearview on privacy grounds in California said Friday that her clients are very concerned about the government’s use of technology to track protesters and immigrants, but any use based on “capturing and Unauthorized sale” of facial impressions by Clearview may violate privacy rights.
“The potential future uses of Clearview appear to be a moving target,” said Sejal Zota, legal director of Just Futures Law. “And the scale is terrifying.”
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