A controversial facial recognition database, used by police departments across the nation, was built in part with 30 billion photos the company scraped from Facebook and other social media users without their permission, the company’s CEO recently admitted, creating what critics called a “perpetual police line-up,” even for people who haven’t done anything wrong.
The company, Clearview AI, boasts of its potential for identifying rioters at the January 6 attack on the Capitol, saving children being abused or exploited, and helping exonerate people wrongfully accused of crimes. But critics point to privacy violations and wrongful arrests fueled by faulty identifications made by facial recognition, including cases in Detroit and New Orleans, as cause for concern over the technology.
Clearview took photos without users’ knowledge, its CEO Hoan Ton-That acknowledged in an interview last month with the BBC. Doing so allowed for the rapid expansion of the company’s massive database, which is marketed on its website to law enforcement as a tool “to bring justice to victims.”
Ton-That told the BBC that Clearview AI’s facial recognition database has been accessed by US police nearly a million times since the company’s founding in 2017, though the relationships between law enforcement and Clearview AI remain murky and that number could not be confirmed by Insider.
In a statement emailed Insider, Ton-That said “Clearview AI’s database of publicly available images is lawfully collected, just like any other search engine like Google.”
The company’s CEO added: “Clearview AI’s database is used for after-the-crime investigations by law enforcement, and is not available to the general public. Every photo in the dataset is a potential clue that could save a life, provide justice to an innocent victim, prevent a wrongful identification, or exonerate an innocent person.”
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