“It’s creepy” – facial recognition app Clearview AI scraped three billion private pictures by breaking social media sites’ rules

From: RegTech Analyst

Clearview AI, an Australian tech startup backed by Peter Thiel, might change how privacy work, according to a new expose in The New York Times.

The facial recognition software company has caused controversy after it was revealed that it scraped several social media platforms to create its databank of over three billion pictures that can be used to identify private individuals.

However, those platforms’ policies prohibit that kind of data harvesting. Experts now fear that other companies will follow suit.

“It’s creepy what they’re doing, but there will be many more of these companies. There is no monopoly on math,” Albert Gidari, a privacy professor at Stanford Law School, told The New York Times.

Hoan Ton-That founded the company in 2016. One of the first tasks for his new engineering team was to create a database with pictures of people’s faces.

The result was a software that automatically collected pictures of people’s faces from across the web by going to sources like employment and news sites as well as social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Venmo, YouTube and Venmo.

When asked about the practice and it breaking the rules of social media sites, Ton-That simply shrugged. “A lot of people are doing it. Facebook knows.”

This process has created a huge database far superior than the one usually provided to law enforcement agencies. 600 law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, currently use Clearview AI’s software. It has helped identify suspects in identity fraud cases at banks, murders and theft cases.

The PayPal co-founder turned tech investors Thiel has backed the company by investing $200,000 into Clearview AI. A Thiel spokesperson denied that his involvement in the venture had gone beyond that. Thiel was also one of the early investors of Facebook.

Clearview AI’s harvesting data from social media sites could be just the beginning, according to Gidari. “Absent a very strong federal privacy law, we’re all screwed,” he said.

The expose comes at a time when facial recognition software solutions are facing increased scrutiny.

Several campaigners have fought back against the use of facial recognition software in public spaces, arguing that it destroys any notion of individual privacy.

San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego are some of the US cities to have banned the technology from being used in public spaces. Many Democratic presidential hopefuls are also supporting a partial ban, according to The New York Times.

And it is not just in US lawmakers who are considering pulling in the reins of the software.

The EU is reportedly considering a five year ban on using facial recognition software in public spaces to give the European Commission time to find out how it could reconcile the use of the technology with the rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), according to an unreleased report seen by EURACTIV.

Nevertheless, the facial recognition market expected to grow to be worth $9.06bn by 2024, according to research from Mordor Intelligence. Those researchers also found that not only is the US the biggest market for the sector, but that the growth is driven by the financial sector wanting to boost their cybersecurity.

Copyright © 2020 FinTech Global

Enjoying the stories?

Subscribe to our daily FinTech newsletter and get the latest industry news & research


The following investor(s) were tagged in this article.