A US company hit the headlines early in February 2020 but for all the wrong reasons.
Clearview AI, the company in question, is a controversial Artificial Intelligence (AI) facial recognition technology company. It appears that Clearview AI has taken over 3 billion images from social media sites such as Facebook , Twitter, and YouTube. Consequently, the images have been made available to law enforcement agencies that use facial recognition software.
Clearview AI uses Artificial Intelligence algorithms to scan the facial geometry of people depicted in the photographs, but many say this violates privacy laws. As yet, the company has never asked subjects for consent nor given notice.
The New York Times wrote an expose in January 2020 named 'The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy As We Know It'. This report details that over 40 tech and civil rights organizations had written to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversights Board (PCLOB). They outlined their concerns around facial recognition technology and Clearview itself. They asked that the PCLOB halt the use of such technology.
During the beginning of February, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had sent 'cease and desist' letters to Clearview AI. The social media platforms stated it is against their policies to have the photos scraped from their platforms although Clearview AI had deemed them as public property.
Clearview AI has laid claim to helping solve some current criminal cases and over 40 'cold-cases' by submitting images to 'tip lines'. Clearview AI is adamant that their technology is only available to law enforcement agencies. Some disagree and say their marketing is directed at finding family and friends alongside celebrities.
New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal has banned the use of Clearview AI in all 21 counties of New Jersey. He said that "what is happening needs to be better understood and to ensure there are appropriate safeguards".
David Mutnick, from Illinois, has recently filed charges against Clearview AI. CNET sister site, ZDNET reported in the US that "The conduct of Defendant Clearview, as alleged herein, epitomizes the insidious encroachment on an individual's liberty ," and that Clearview AI "acted out of pure greed."
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois East Division, alleges that Clearview AI's actions are a threat to civil liberties.
"Without obtaining any consent and without notice, Defendant Clearview used the internet to covertly gather information on millions of American citizens, collecting approximately three billion pictures of them, without any reason to suspect any of them of having done anything wrong, ever," the complaint alleges. "Clearview used artificial intelligence algorithms to scan the facial geometry of each individual depicted in the images, a technique that violates multiple privacy laws."
Meanwhile, China has already rolled out facial recognition cameras and has more than any other country. Facial recognition can be used to authorize payments but is still, at this stage, voluntary. China also now scans citizens faces when entering a new mobile phone contract as part of a crackdown on SIM card fraud by reselling them.
Experts say it won't be long before a similar company pops up in the UK. There are certain parts of the UK already using this type of technology, such as Metropolitan Police Department in East London. There is still heavy criticism because the technology is alleged to be mostly inaccurate. The technology is regularly known to mistake women and black people.
In the meantime, researchers are trying to work out how to stop the technology from being abused. This becomes a more relevant battle as technology advances.