Clearview Looking To Expand Its Market To Problematic Countries Known For Human Rights Abuses

from the a-cop's-a-cop,-right? dept

It appears no one’s thrilled facial recognition upstart Clearview is scraping their photos to build a facial recognition database to sell to cops. But what can they do about it? Not much more than write angry letters.

Twitter was the first to send a C&D to the troubling developer over this troubling development. It was presumably ignored. Google also issued a C&D, only to be not-so-gently reminded by Clearview that Google does the same thing to build its search engine database. (Of course, web site owners and developers can opt out of being crawled by Google bots — something that’s not an option with Clearview.)

Added to the list of pissed scrapees are Venmo and LinkedIn, the latter known for actually suing people who have scraped its site. Facebook, however, has not done this and it’s by far the largest repository of face photos and personal information on the web. Facebook claims to be asking Clearview some tough questions about its scraping and database compilation but it has not sent a formal cease-and-desist.

Maybe Zuckerberg’s just disappointed he didn’t think of this first. Or, as Aaron Mak speculates for Slate, maybe it has something to with Peter Thiel’s early investment in Clearview and his position as a Facebook board member. Thiel likes surveillance and Clearview’s scraping of Facebook to compile a facial recognition database may be just the sort of vertical integration he’s looking for.

But the bad news gets worse. Clearview’s aggressive pursuit of law enforcement agency customers — combined with its questionable database construction methods — hasn’t won it very many friends. Not even from the law enforcement community, which has been forced to offer rebuttals to exaggerated (or downright false) claims made by Clearview in its marketing materials.

Clearview isn’t going to limit itself to the United States. Documents obtained by BuzzFeed show Clearview is pitching its facial recognition app to abusive governments around the world.

A document obtained via a public records request reveals that Clearview has been touting a “rapid international expansion” to prospective clients using a map that highlights how it either has expanded, or plans to expand, to at least 22 more countries, some of which have committed human rights abuses.

The document, part of a presentation given to the North Miami Police Department in November 2019, includes the United Arab Emirates, a country historically hostile to political dissidents, and Qatar and Singapore, the penal codes of which criminalize homosexuality.

So far, Clearview says it only has “partnerships” in the US and Canada. But no developer flogging surveillance tech has ever been willing to limit themselves to the “good guys.” Even Israeli tech companies have been willing to sell products to their country’s direct enemies, presumably assuming the profits will outweigh the collateral damage when these are inevitably turned against their nation’s people.

Clearview may find more opposition if it attempts to sell its products to European law enforcement agencies. Unlike here in the US, privacy protection laws are extremely restrictive. The unholy mess that is the GDPR makes it untenable for US sites to use cookies or serve ads. Trying to push a product built on non-consensual scraping of personal data from dozens of websites is a non-starter.

Potentially more problematic is Clearview’s inclusion of nine European Union countries — among them Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands — on its expansion map. These countries have strict privacy protections under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a 2016 law that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens. Joseph Jerome, a policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said it was unclear whether Clearview AI’s technology would violate the GDPR.

Then again, there may be almost no trouble at all. Like almost every privacy protection law created anywhere in the world, law enforcement and national security services enjoy some very large carve outs, which makes it possible for them to do the things the law says is illegal if anyone with a lot less power to destroy lives does it. In this case, Clearview’s data collection process may be illegal, but government use of the end result won’t be. Funny how that works.

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Companies: clearview, clearview ai

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Comments on “Clearview Looking To Expand Its Market To Problematic Countries Known For Human Rights Abuses”

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21 Comments
David says:

No surprise here

Clearview Looking To Expand Its Market To Problematic Countries Known For Human Rights Abuses

Weapon manufacturers and dealers will also not exclusively sell to peaceful nations and citizens. Politicians will not focus their campaigns on sensible voters.

It’s just a question of where you are getting the best rewards for your offerings. Selling responsibly is all very nice and that. But it does not maximize the bang for your buck and is not the American way.

Anonymous Coward says:

people will do whatever they can possibly dream up to make money! virtually no company is interested in those who get hurt, in any way, shape or form, who get wrapped up in the need to scoop whatever info they can get about as many people as possible! and when they can do so, with the blessing of the perverted heads in charge of the various Police and Security services, thus ensuring virtual immunity from any prosecution and the means to make even more money, they do it! anyone who gets caught up, who just happen to look similar to a suspect, tough shit!

bhull242 (profile) says:

Y’know, as I recall, one of the reasons why Google Search’s web-crawling is considered lawful is the fact they have that opt-out feature (and other customization features) through robot.txt, which means they technically have some consent of sorts from the sites being crawled. Since Clearview clearly lacks any way to opt out of (or customize) their ability to collect and view data from any website, they don’t have those same justifications, and that could present legal issues down the road.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Wow, GDPR really *is* a mess, but Clearview seems bad with LEOs

Joseph Jerome, a policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said it was unclear whether Clearview AI’s technology would violate the GDPR.

Y’know, we mostly talk about how sites that are fairly benign aren’t certain whether or not they are in compliance with the GDPR, but I think it says something that it’s uncertain whether a service that probably should be a violation actually is.

In this case, Clearview’s data collection process may be illegal, but government use of the end result won’t be. Funny how that works.

That’s technically probably true, but if the service provider is unlawful, wouldn’t it have to be shut down anyways? It doesn’t seem like it would be a permanent problem in the EU, at least, though it may do some damage in the short-term.

Also, considering the reactions from our LEOs to Clearview, I wouldn’t be surprised if Clearview somehow alienated LEOs in the EU, too.

Right...Whose law? says:

Re: Wow, GDPR really *is* a mess, but Clearview seems bad with L

All good, up until "reactions from LEOs"

Whose side are you on anyways?

Who fucking cares what LEO/LEAs think about anything (you, and ADL, Bnai Brith and affilliated/ purchased/sponsored trolls) much less secular law?

Useful idiot 101.

Bhull, Aspergers Awareness NOW!

You are the perfect Golem, and a useful (idiot) Esther.

The Other Guys says:

Its always a problem when the "othered" guys do the same shit that the "good peeple" do to them ~first~, right?

Cultural Supremacy apparently depends from pre-emptive treachery

Understatement of the year soon to follow:

Even Israeli tech companies have been willing to sell products to their country’s direct enemies

I’m pretty sure they lead the pack in that field.

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