Clearview Looking To Expand Its Market To Problematic Countries Known For Human Rights Abuses

from the a-cop's-a-cop,-right? dept

It appears no one's thrilled facial recognition upstart Clearview is scraping their photos to build a facial recognition database to sell to cops. But what can they do about it? Not much more than write angry letters.

Twitter was the first to send a C&D to the troubling developer over this troubling development. It was presumably ignored. Google also issued a C&D, only to be not-so-gently reminded by Clearview that Google does the same thing to build its search engine database. (Of course, web site owners and developers can opt out of being crawled by Google bots -- something that's not an option with Clearview.)

Added to the list of pissed scrapees are Venmo and LinkedIn, the latter known for actually suing people who have scraped its site. Facebook, however, has not done this and it's by far the largest repository of face photos and personal information on the web. Facebook claims to be asking Clearview some tough questions about its scraping and database compilation but it has not sent a formal cease-and-desist.

Maybe Zuckerberg's just disappointed he didn't think of this first. Or, as Aaron Mak speculates for Slate, maybe it has something to with Peter Thiel's early investment in Clearview and his position as a Facebook board member. Thiel likes surveillance and Clearview's scraping of Facebook to compile a facial recognition database may be just the sort of vertical integration he's looking for.

But the bad news gets worse. Clearview's aggressive pursuit of law enforcement agency customers -- combined with its questionable database construction methods -- hasn't won it very many friends. Not even from the law enforcement community, which has been forced to offer rebuttals to exaggerated (or downright false) claims made by Clearview in its marketing materials.

Clearview isn't going to limit itself to the United States. Documents obtained by BuzzFeed show Clearview is pitching its facial recognition app to abusive governments around the world.

A document obtained via a public records request reveals that Clearview has been touting a “rapid international expansion” to prospective clients using a map that highlights how it either has expanded, or plans to expand, to at least 22 more countries, some of which have committed human rights abuses.

The document, part of a presentation given to the North Miami Police Department in November 2019, includes the United Arab Emirates, a country historically hostile to political dissidents, and Qatar and Singapore, the penal codes of which criminalize homosexuality.

So far, Clearview says it only has "partnerships" in the US and Canada. But no developer flogging surveillance tech has ever been willing to limit themselves to the "good guys." Even Israeli tech companies have been willing to sell products to their country's direct enemies, presumably assuming the profits will outweigh the collateral damage when these are inevitably turned against their nation's people.

Clearview may find more opposition if it attempts to sell its products to European law enforcement agencies. Unlike here in the US, privacy protection laws are extremely restrictive. The unholy mess that is the GDPR makes it untenable for US sites to use cookies or serve ads. Trying to push a product built on non-consensual scraping of personal data from dozens of websites is a non-starter.

Potentially more problematic is Clearview’s inclusion of nine European Union countries — among them Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands — on its expansion map. These countries have strict privacy protections under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a 2016 law that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens. Joseph Jerome, a policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said it was unclear whether Clearview AI's technology would violate the GDPR.

Then again, there may be almost no trouble at all. Like almost every privacy protection law created anywhere in the world, law enforcement and national security services enjoy some very large carve outs, which makes it possible for them to do the things the law says is illegal if anyone with a lot less power to destroy lives does it. In this case, Clearview's data collection process may be illegal, but government use of the end result won't be. Funny how that works.

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Filed Under: facial recognition, governments, privacy, scraping, surveillance
Companies: clearview, clearview ai

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  1. identicon
    Thomas Paine, 12 Feb 2020 @ 9:53am

    Re: Wow, ha really hamiltron *is* a mess,

    No relation to me.

    But please do expound on your obsession with making that non-existent link that several other ACs and TD conspiracy theorists frequently make as a pejorative insult here.


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