Clearview AI stops selling facial recognition data to US companies

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Clearview AI promises to stop selling its facial recognition database to private companies in the US. The company does so after a settlement with the American civil rights organization ACLU. The company is still allowed to provide services to the government.

As part of the settlement Clearview AI agrees to a permanent ban on the sale or free distribution of its facial recognition database to individuals or private companies within the United States. That database consists of photos of faces, which have been scraped from social networks such as Facebook, among other things. The company said in 2020 it would end its contracts with private companies, but that ban is now permanent.

The company will also completely stop offering its services in the state of Illinois for the next five years, in accordance with the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. This also applies to government agencies in that state, which normally have an exception to that BIPA law. The company is still allowed to do business with the federal government and U.S. government agencies and law enforcement agencies outside of Illinois.

In addition, Illinois residents are allowed to submit an opt-out request, after which Clearview AI must remove their photos from its database. The company pledges to invest $50,000 in advertising for that opt-out option. The company will also continue to filter new photos of Illinois residents over the next five years.

The American Civil Liberties Union sees the settlement as a victory. “By requiring Clearview to abide by Illinois’ groundbreaking biometrics law not just in the state, but nationwide, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” writes a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology project.

Clearview AI has been discredited several times in the past. The company uses scraping tools to collect photos from public sources such as social media for its facial recognition database, without the permission of the people in the photos. The company states that this is allowed, because it concerns public data. Clearview is used, for example, by police authorities and in Ukraine.

Several privacy regulators have previously fined Clearview AI for processing data without permission. The Italian privacy regulator GPDP recently fined the company 20 million euros, because Clearview ‘unlawfully collects biometric data from Italian citizens’. The British privacy regulator ICO plans to do the same. France and Australia previously ordered Clearview to remove all data from their citizens.