Clearview AI on Track to Create “Search Engine for Faces”

Published · Dec 10, 2021

Clearview AI has received approval for a patent on facial recognition technology despite protest by Congress members and privacy advocates. This, beside the fact that the company is already under scrutiny for its activities in facial recognition.

Clearview AI scrapes photographs from many publicly available sources, predominantly social media. It has faced opposition over this.

Multiple companies, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook have sent letters demanding that it stop. In spite of this, the company has expressed an intention to continue its activity. So far, it has acquired 10 billion photos this way.

The CEO and co-founder of the company, Hoan Ton-That, argues that scraping the data is fair use, as these are public digital spaces available to all.

The situation seems ambiguous in the US, where laws on facial recognition are lacking. In Australia, however, the company was found to have broken the law. The government ordered it to cease operations there and delete any data on Australian citizens.

Clearview says that this tech will never be available to consumers; only for use by governments. However, evidence hints to the contrary.

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If Clearview’s plan is carried out to the end, it’ll most likely take the form of a “search engine” for faces.

In theory, a photo of someone could be used to find everything publicly available about them. It would be the ultimate hybrid of people search sites and background check services.

A government having control of such powerful technology is concerning. Authorities could easily use it to persecute dissidents, activists, and political rivals.

While Clearview says there’ll be no “consumer version,” it also claims it could be useful. It said that people could use it to run background checks on dates or new people they meet.

Admittedly, such a service could make a solid app. People could just link someone’s photo and find out everything publicly available about them. Even things they may want to hide.

However, it’d be another step to the elimination of anonymity. It’d also be a blow to the ability to shape one’s online image, which is what social media thrives on.

It remains to be seen whether or not that is a good thing and how the company will use its newly-acquired power.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.