Archive for Clearview AI

Ukraine Using Clearview AI Tech To Fight Russia

Posted in Commentary with tags , on March 14, 2022 by itnerd

To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about this news that Ukraine has apparently turned to Clearview AI to help them fight Russia:

Ukraine’s defense ministry on Saturday began using Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology, the company’s chief executive told Reuters, after the U.S. startup offered to uncover Russian assailants, combat misinformation and identify the dead. Ukraine is receiving free access to Clearview AI’s powerful search engine for faces, letting authorities potentially vet people of interest at checkpoints, among other uses, added Lee Wolosky, an adviser to Clearview and former diplomat under U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The plans started forming after Russia invaded Ukraine and Clearview Chief Executive Hoan Ton-That sent a letter to Kyiv offering assistance, according to a copy seen by Reuters. Clearview said it had not offered the technology to Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation….”

The Clearview founder said his startup had more than 2 billion images from the Russian social media service VKontakte at its disposal, out of a database of over 10 billion photos total. That database can help Ukraine identify the dead more easily than trying to match fingerprints and works even if there is facial damage, Ton-That wrote…. Ton-That’s letter also said Clearview’s technology could be used to reunite refugees separated from their families, identify Russian operatives and help the government debunk false social media posts related to the war.

The exact purpose for which Ukraine’s defense ministry is using the technology is unclear, Ton-That said. Other parts of Ukraine’s government are expected to deploy Clearview in the coming days, he and Wolosky said.

Part of me thinks that this is a good use of this technology. But another part of me screams “this is Clearview AI and they’re evil.” This is clearly an interesting (if “interesting” is a right way of saying it) dilemma. Using some evil tech for a good cause. I root for Ukraine as we all do, but where is the border between the right and wrong time to use facial recognition and how do we make sure it is stopped when this war is over? That’s the question that needs to be answered.

Clearview AI Brags About Being Able To Ensure “Almost Everyone In The World Will Be Identifiable”

Posted in Commentary with tags , on February 19, 2022 by itnerd

I’ve written about Clearview AI before. And the fact that when it comes to violating your privacy, they’re right up there with Meta/Facebook. Well after reading this Washington Post story, I have to say that Meta/Facebook doesn’t seem so bad compared to these clowns:

Clearview AI is telling investors it is on track to have 100 billion facial photos in its database within a year, enough to ensure “almost everyone in the world will be identifiable,” according to a financial presentation from December obtained by The Washington Post. 

Those images — equivalent to 14 photos for each of the 7 billion people on Earth — would help power a surveillance system that has been used for arrests and criminal investigations by thousands of law enforcement and government agencies around the world. And the company wants to expand beyond scanning faces for the police, saying in the presentation that it could monitor “gig economy” workers and is researching a number of new technologies that could identify someone based on how they walk, detect their location from a photo or scan their fingerprints from afar. 

The 55-page “pitch deck,” the contents of which have not been reported previously, reveals surprising details about how the company, whose work already is controversial, is positioning itself for a major expansion, funded in large part by government contracts and the taxpayers the system would be used to monitor. The document was made for fundraising purposes, and it is unclear how realistic its goals might be. The company said that its “index of faces” has grown from 3 billion images to more than 10 billion since early 2020 and that its data collection system now ingests 1.5 billion images a month.

With $50 million from investors, the company said, it could bulk up its data collection powers to 100 billion photos, build new products, expand its international sales team and pay more toward lobbying government policymakers to “develop favorable regulation.”

Doesn’t that make you feel creeped out? It sure makes me feel creeped out. The only solution is to make sure that this company is regulated to death so that it makes their business model is made non-viable. And if I had to place bets on who might be likely to do that, I would say that the EU would be the ones that would to take the lead on that because they simply don’t tolerate violations of privacy. But It would mean a lot more if the US which is where Clearview AI is based did something as it would send a clear message that this sort of business model is unacceptable.

Clearview AI Set To Get A Patent…. Which Is All Sorts Of Wrong

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 7, 2021 by itnerd

I haven’t written about notorious facial recognition company Clearview AI in some time. But they’re back in the news as it looks like that they are going to get a patent for some of their tech:

Clearview AI, the notorious facial recognition company which has partneredwith over 2,400 law enforcement agencies across the U.S, is about to receive a patent for what it describes as a first of its kind, “search engine for faces.”

Politico, which was the first to discover the patent originally filed in August 2020, determined the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had sent Clearview a notice of allowance last week. That means Clearview essentially has the patent in the bag so long as it pays its administrative fees. And with well over $38 million raised so far in funding according to Crunchbase, paying the bill shouldn’t be a problem.

In an interview with Politico, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That claimed his company’s tool would represent the first of its kind to use “large-scale internet data.” That translates to, the first facial recognition service to scrape billions of photos from social media and other publicly available databases, almost always without users’ consent. That sweeping database of faces includes somewhere around 10 billion images, according to Ton-That.

This is all sorts of wrong that has privacy advocates freaking out. And rightly so.

Mark Stamford, Cyber Security Expert and Founder of OccamSec had this to say about the patent:

Well first, it’s not really AI. They collect a bunch of pics, use some machine learning, and then match faces to names.

Then he goes on to say the following:

  • From a privacy standpoint its mostly awful – their long term plan (judging by the patent application) is to give everyone the ability to scan faces and work out who people are. 
  • So we can imagine a situation where you meet someone, and can quickly get their background info and determine if you should talk to them. 
  • Seems harmless enough, but how about I work out who in the environment is worth robbing? Or kidnapping? Or I can use these to determine who someone is, find out how much they might be worth, and use the info to launch a social engineering attack against them leading to me emptying their bank account (it will save me hours of time if I can just see a face and get all its info).

He concludes, “Beyond that, its full on black mirror land.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Clearview AI is a clear and present danger. No company should be allowed to do what it is doing, and given that countries worldwide along with numerous companies have tried to curtail if not stop what it is doing, one can hope that it will drive them out of existence.

Surprise! Clearview AI Broke Canadian Privacy Laws…. Not That They Care

Posted in Commentary with tags , on February 4, 2021 by itnerd

Clearview AI is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. It has come to light in the last 24 hours that the company who is known for scraping social media for pictures so that it can use them to power its facial recognition tech for various law enforcement agencies has a product that is effectively illegal in Canada according to a joint investigation involving the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, and the Information Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. The report put out by this group is pretty damming and doesn’t paint Clearview AI in a positive light and the company really is giving Canada the metaphorical middle finger:

In disagreeing with our findings, Clearview alleged an absence of harms to individuals flowing from its activities. In our view, Clearview’s position fails to acknowledge: (i) the myriad of instances where false, or misapplied matches could result in reputational damage, and (ii) more fundamentally, the affront to individuals’ privacy rights and broad-based harm inflicted on all members of society, who find themselves under continual mass surveillance by Clearview based on its indiscriminate scraping and processing of their facial images.

In terms of remedies, noting that it had withdrawn from the Canadian market during our investigation, Clearview stated that it was “prepared to consider” remaining outside of the Canadian market for a further two years, while our Offices developed relevant guidance. Clearview suggested that it would be appropriate for our Offices to suspend our investigation and not issue this final report, and that during such a suspension, it “would be willing to take steps, on a best efforts and without prejudice basis, to try to limit the collection and distribution of the images that it is able to identify as Canadian” [emphasis added]. Clearview has not committed to following our recommendations. The Offices view it as inappropriate to suspend the investigation and not issue this Report. We therefore find the matter to be well-founded and restate the recommendations in our preliminary findings.

It’s nice to know that Canadian authorities aren’t willing to take Clearview AI’s bulls**t. Which is what this company is pedaling at this point based on their blog. It really seems that Clearview AI is going out of their way to defend their behavior. In fact that they use the age old technique of justifying it by claiming that they put the bad guys in jail and said bad guys would otherwise go free if it were not for their technology. To me that’s really lame. And they really need to address the fact that they have broken the law in Canada if they want to be seen as a good corporate citizen. Until then, Canadian authorities need to keep putting the pressure on Clearview AI to change it behavior. Especially since getting any photos that the company has of you out of their database is a challenge that the company appears to be unwilling to address.

Good News… Clearview AI Lets Canadians Opt Out Of Their Service….. But There’s Bad News

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 13, 2020 by itnerd

I’ve previously written about Clearview AI and how they treat Canadians who have had their faces sucked up into their facial recognition database. In short, while Canadians could find out if they were in the database, they could not opt out.

CBC News is reporting that Canadians can now opt out, which is good news:

Sometime this week, Clearview quietly posted a link on its website allowing Canadian residents to “opt out.” The company doesn’t ask for individuals’ consent before scraping their images from the internet in the first place.

Here’s the bad news:

Clearview requests a photo of anyone asking to withdraw from search results, even though some may be hesitant to provide further fuel for a company developing facial recognition software.

“To find any Clearview search results that pertain to you (if any), we cannot search by name or any method other than image — so we need an image of you,” the website reads.

Clearview says the supplied photo will not appear in search results and will be “de-identified.” But it says it will still maintain a record of the request. The firm also asks for an email address so a confirmation can be sent when the withdrawal request is completed. 

“Deidentification means that Clearview AI retains only a numerical hash of a photo for the sole purpose of removing persons in that photo from search results and preventing further collection,” the firm’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That told CBC News in an email.

Ton-That has not clarified whether Clearview intends to keep data belonging to Canadians on file despite no longer operating in the country, nor whether photos of Canadians will now be deleted.

Well, that seems sketchy as hell.

Normally I would jump to remove myself from something like this. But given the above paragraphs, I wonder if I am better off leaving my photos in their database as it sounds like my info isn’t being removed. Instead it sounds like it simply won’t pop up as readily. If Clearview AI had said that it would nuke the data that belonged to Canadians, then perhaps I would feel better. But they haven’t said that. I will have to think about what to do next as being a person of African decent, facial recognition has proven to be biased against people like me. Which makes me worry about what will happen with this data.

Bye Bye, So Long, Farewell…. Clearview AI Leaves Canada

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 7, 2020 by itnerd

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has announced that facial recognition software provider Clearview AI will no longer offer its services in the country. Let’s break this announcement down:

Clearview AI has advised Canadian privacy protection authorities that, in response to their joint investigation, it will cease offering its facial recognition services in Canada.

This step includes the indefinite suspension of Clearview AI’s contract with the RCMP, which was its last remaining client in Canada.

I read that as Clearview AI doesn’t like to be investigated as it clearly has something to hide. So it’s picking up its marbles and going home.

The investigation of Clearview by privacy protection authorities for Canada, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec remains open. The authorities still plan to issue findings in this matter given the importance of the issue for the privacy rights of Canadians.

An ongoing issue under investigation by the authorities is the deletion of the personal information of Canadians that Clearview has already collected as well as the cessation of Clearview’s collection of Canadians’ personal information.

The privacy authorities appreciate Clearview AI’s cooperation to date on the ongoing investigation, and look to the company’s continued cooperation as it is brought to conclusion.

As well, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will complete its related investigation into the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology.

The joint investigation was initiated in the wake of media reports which stated that Clearview AI was using its technology to collect images and make facial recognition available to law enforcement in the context of investigations. Reports have also indicated the US-based company provides services in a number of countries to a broad range of organizations, including retailers, financial institutions and various government institutions.

Given the investigations are ongoing, no further details are available at this time and interviews are not possible.

I read that as Clearview AI’s problems are not going away anytime soon despite the fact that they picked up their marbles and went home. And it shouldn’t stop as Clearview AI looks like a really shady firm from the perspective of the casual observer. And there’s still the question of if the firm will delete the photos of Canadians if you ask them to. So I for one am happy that Clearview AI is gone from Canada. Let’s hope that other countries, such as the US and the EU really put the screws to them as well.

Canadians Can Ask Clearview AI If Their Photos Are In Their Database…. But You May Not Be Able To Get Them Deleted

Posted in Commentary with tags on June 10, 2020 by itnerd

The CBC is reporting that controversial U.S.-based facial recognition technology firm Clearview AI is apparently allowing Canadians to check whether their face appears in the company’s image database. But you might not be able to delete them. Here’s the details that a CBC reporter got from the company:

Last week, a CBC News reporter submitted a headshot to the company by email and requested they provide all images of him found in the firm’s database. Clearview replied three days later, supplying a PDF file with 12 photos, including several duplicates. 

All pictures were closeups of the reporter’s face.Clearview listed where it had first found the images, including official CBC web pages, Twitter, and other services which appear to scrape social media profiles, such as a website called “Insta Stalker.”

Both Twitter and Facebook, which owns Instagram, have told Clearview to stop using images from their platforms for facial recognition.

Well, that’s scary. If you want to find out if you’re in their database, and chances are you are, here’s how you find out:

“You have the right to request that Clearview AI provides you with copies of your personal data,” the firm’s website states. It says to email the request to privacy-requests@clearview.ai, along with a headshot which will be used for the search.

But Canadians may not be able to get those photos yanked:

Clearview’s privacy policy says it’s possible to ask for personal data to be deleted, but only “under certain conditions,” depending on local data protection rules. Its website provides formsfor residents of various jurisdictions with privacy legislation in effect — such as California, Britain and the EU — to request their images be deleted.

In response to a series of questions from CBC — including whether the firm would comply if a Canadian user requests their data be deleted from Clearview’s database — the firm’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That, provided a one-line statement.

“We process privacy requests for opt-out and data access we receive from Canadian citizens,” he said. 

The “opt-out” option appears to suggest Canadians can get Clearview to stop selling their data to other companies, even though the firm itself says it “will never share or sell user data.” A representative of the company did not respond to a request for clarification on what specifically the opt-out entails. 

This is a lame response from Clearview AI. But not surprising. After all this is a firm that is at best is kind of shady. What needs to happen is that the Canadian Government needs to pass a law to force companies like Clearview AI to delete data upon request. Now this will likely cut into their profits and make their software less effective which is likely why the company doesn’t want to do this. And I am sure that if the Canadian Government does serve up such legislation, Clearview AI will fight it as hard as they can. But it’s clear that as IBM pointed out yesterday, facial recognition has serious problems. Thus all Canadians, if not everyone everywhere needs protections from companies like Clearview AI who want to profit from this tech at any cost.

Toronto Cops Admit To Using Controversial Clearview AI Software… Why Everyone Needs To Care About This

Posted in Commentary with tags , on February 14, 2020 by itnerd

Global News is reporting that the Toronto Police Service was using Clearview AI. This is  is a controversial facial recognition tool. It uses images scraped from social media and other websites to cross-reference uploaded images of people. The system reportedly has three billion photos on its database. This apparently had been going on for months before being ordered to stop by the chief of police in Toronto. Which of course implies that this was some sort of “black ops” effort done behind the chief’s back. Which in itself is a problem. On top of that, the cops have requested the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review Clearview AI. Finally, this report contradicts what the police force has said in the past. Which is that it does use facial recognition software. But not software from Clearview AI.

Now the fact that the Toronto Police Service was using this tool isn’t a surprise. But it is a huge problem. The New York Times has pointed out the dangers of software like this:

Facial recognition technology has always been controversial. It makes people nervous about Big Brother. It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color. And some facial recognition products used by the police — including Clearview’s — haven’t been vetted by independent experts.

Now that’s a huge problem. But the other problem with Clearview AI is that it basically scrapes its database of photos from social media. Often violating the terms of service of the social media platforms that it takes its photos from. Think about that for a second. Your photos have possibly been uploaded to this system without your permission. Regardless of the fact that your social media profile has been set up to be private or otherwise. That’s a huge problem that you should be a wee bit ticked off about. Which is why social media companies have gone after Clearview AI. In fact, here’s a list of what the company has been caught doing:

  • The company reportedly lifted pictures from Twitter, Facebook, Venmo and millions of other websites over the past few years. Twitter recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clearview AI after the company got caught claiming that the company’s actions violated Twitter’s policies and demanding that Clearview AI stop lifting images from its platform immediately.
  • Google and YouTube made similar claims in a cease-and-desist letter that they served up to Clearview AI.

But based on this, I don’t think that the company cares about what social media companies think of them scraping their platforms for photos. This is a CBS News interview with Clearview CEO, Hoan Ton-That who clearly thinks, or wants you to think that he is doing nothing wrong:

Clearly, he has a Travis Kalanic attitude to life. Which is “I’m going to do what I want so screw you and the horse you rode in on if you have a problem with that.” But creating a massive database of pictures so that law enforcement can use it anyway the wish is problematic. And what happens if someone is misidentified by this system? It may take years, if it is even possible to clear that person’s name from any association with a crime. And just think what would happen if a law enforcement agency, or worse yet a government wanted to go after a person or a group via this piece of software. Just thinking about it sends chills down my spine as it sounds like something out of 1984.

That’s why we all should have a problem with what the Toronto Police Service was doing with this tool. It sends society down a very dangerous path that there may be no way back from. Thus they need to be held to account for using this tool. But we should also be bothered by Clearview AI who has the vibe of Uber. But with something that is far more dangerous. People need to make sure that politicians and those in positions to potentially use a piece of software like this know that this is unacceptable. I am all for any tool, software or otherwise that can help to catch the bad guys and put them in jail. But violating people’s privacy on a massive scale to do it isn’t something that should exist in a free and democratic society. At least I think so. And if you value being in a free and democratic society, so should you.