Commentary

Clearview Plans Expansion Of Faceprint Database

In the last two years, facial-recognition company Clearview has been on the receiving end of lawsuits by consumers, cease-and-desist commands by tech companies inquiries by elected officials, and at least one prosecution by a state attorney general in the U.S.

None of that appears to have slowed down the business, which reportedly is boasting to investors that it will soon be able to identify nearly everyone in the world.

In a presentation seen by The Washington Post, Clearview says it now indexes 10 billion images of faces -- up from 3 billion two years ago.

The company says it hopes to soon have 100 billion photos of faces in its database -- averaging out to 14 per person in the world. Whether the company can fulfill that aspiration remains unknown.

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Clearview came to public attention in January of 2020, when The New York Times reported that the business scraped billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other companies, used technology to create a faceprint database, and then sold access to police departments across the country.

It later emerged that Clearview's clients included other government agencies as well as private entities, such as Macy's department store.

News of Clearview's planned expansion comes as facial-recognition technology is increasingly seen as a privacy threat.

Civil rights advocates argue that the technology will effectively end people's ability to be anonymous outdoors -- at protests, political events, or other public spaces. Critics also point out that the technology, which is imperfect, has resulted in wrongful arrests.

Officials in a growing number of U.S. jurisdictions have recently prohibited police from using facial recognition technology, and one city -- Portland, Oregon -- has also banned its use in public places by businesses.

But as of now, no federal law regulates the collection or use of biometric data.

It's worth noting that while Clearview has garnered much publicity, it's not the only company to have developed such a database -- or to offer them to the government.

Amazon, for one, also created a facial-recognition tool that was used by the government until June of 2020.

Yet another company, ID.me, has contracts with the government to verify people's identities.

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service retreated from a plan to require people to upload selfies to ID.me -- which would then use facial recognition technology for identification -- in order to access some tax documents. But other government agencies, including the majority of state unemployment agencies, still work with ID.me.

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