Time Magazine Lauds Clearview AI Despite Its Sketchy Facial Recognition Tech

from the but-why? dept

Time Magazine released its inaugural list of the 100 Most Influential Companies, featuring an array of large and small corporations that “are helping to chart an essential path forward.” Disturbingly, among its choices of “disruptors” is Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition start-up known for illicitly scraping Americans’ images and demographic information from social media and selling the data to law enforcement. By celebrating a company that engages in illegal mass surveillance, Time is complicit in the degradation of our privacy and our civil liberties.

Even cursory scrutiny by Time would have uncovered Clearview AI’s disreputable practices. Perhaps Time was satisfied with the vague explanation from Clearview AI’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That, that the company is “working with law enforcement to balance privacy and security.” But it’s hard to understand why, after substantial reporting by other members of the media, Time chose to accept Ton-That’s word when there is conclusive evidence that Clearview AI continues to violate civil liberties by supplying law enforcement agencies, private banks and sports teams with billions of illegally collected images.

Widespread concern about facial recognition technology’s threats to civil liberties and its propensity for inaccuracy and racial bias fueled the public outcry that ensued after the New York Times first broke news about Clearview AI. Amid calls from civil rights advocates for lawmakers to ban the use of facial recognition technology, members of Congress questioned Clearview AI about its technology and its potential for abuse against First Amendment-protected activity. Since then, a growing list of U.S. cities have banned police use of the technology.

Despite the bans and lawsuits, both locally and internationally, against Clearview AI, the company’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ personal data without specific links to criminality continues unabated. Clearview AI’s troubling history and ongoing illegal activity should have dissuaded Time from elevating it in the public sphere. Yet the outlet only vaguely summarizes serious concerns about Clearview AI in its profile, mentioning briefly that “civil rights advocates fear abuses” of its technology despite reports of both the company and its clients misleading the public. Without evidence, Time also credits Clearview AI for assisting in the arrest of individuals connected to the breach of the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, while sweeping aside Clearview AI?s ties to misinformation.

Clearview AI’s secretive practices that Time lauds as “influential” and “disruptive” represent a dangerous disregard for our social norms and expectations of privacy. We have come to expect to certain tradeoffs with technology providers: we share some demographic information in exchange for the ease, convenience and connectivity their products bring to our daily lives. However, any marginal benefits of Clearview AI do not hold up against its significant potential for harm, and Time should have acknowledged that. The company’s technology paves the way to a dystopian future devoid of privacy and anonymity, both online and offline. Clearview AI is creating an environment where anyone – an ICE agent, a stalker or an individual bad actor within government – can take a photo of an individual anywhere and automatically pull up that person’s Instagram, TikTok, blog, or other personal information without their knowledge or consent.

It is a future civil society advocates have long warned about and will continue to fight against. Time should acknowledge these warnings in its report, especially since its readers are among Clearview AI’s targets. As an iconic publication that has been a part of America’s media and social landscape for almost 100 years, Time has effectively chronicled the struggle for civil liberties over the decades. It is a disgrace that when it came to covering today’s most influential companies, Time instead chose to endorse a company that is distinguished only for its unrelenting commitment to destroying those same liberties.

Freddy Martinez is a policy analyst at Open The Government.

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Companies: clearview

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