Clearview Is So Toxic Even Other Surveillance Tech Purveyors Want Nothing To Do With It

from the bring-back-spitting-in-disgust-old-world-style dept

Outside of Clearview’s CEO Hoan Ton-That, it’s unclear who truly likes or admires the upstart facial recognition tech company. In the short time since its existence was uncovered, Clearview has managed to turn itself into Pariah-in-Chief of a surveillance industry full of pariahs.

Clearview hasn’t endeared itself to the sources for its 10-billion image database, which are (in descending order) (1) any publicly-accessible website/social media platform, and (2) their users. The company has been sued (for violating state privacy laws) in the United States and politely asked to leave by Canada, which found Clearview’s nonconsensual harvesting of personal info illegal.

It has subpoenaed activists demanding access to their (protected by the First Amendment) conversations with journalists. It has made claims about law enforcement efficacy that have been directly contradicted by the namechecked police departments. It has invited private companies, billionaire tech investors, police departments in the US, and government agencies around in the world to test drive the software by running searches on friends, family members, and whoever else potential customers might find interesting/useful to compile a (scraped) digital dossier on.

Clearview intends to swallow up all the web it can. Caroline Haskins’ report for Business Insider (alt link here) catches Clearview’s vice president of federal sales pretty much saying the only way to avoid being added to Clearview’s database is to stop being online.

“People are constantly dumping their — it’s just a constant,” Clearview’s Jones said during the roundtable event, referring to the steady stream of people posting their photos online, only for Clearview to scrape them.

The same report shows why Clearview’s is so bad at PR. It has a PR team — one that continually stresses the AI does not provide “matches,” but rather “investigative leads.” The difference between the terms is the extent of liability. If Clearview only generates leads, it cannot be blamed for false positives. If it says it delivers “matches,” it possibly can be sued for wrongful arrests.

But CEO Hoan Ton-That can’t stop using the terms interchangeably, which indicates he feels his software generates matches, thus inviting additional culpability.

“No one has done what we do at this scale with this accuracy,” he said later in the conference, adding that anyone “is able to solve cases instantaneously if they get matches in the system.”

The “accuracy” Ton-That claims no one can match is “98.6% accuracy per one million faces” — an assertion Clearview’s made for a couple of years now. Whether this claim is anywhere near 98.6% accurate remains to be seen. The AI has never been independently tested or audited.

We know how Clearview feels about itself. But how do the competitors in the market feel about it? Caroline Haskins spoke to other surveillance tech purveyors at the Connect:ID industry event and found other providers of facial recognition AI weren’t thrilled Clearview was out there giving already-controversial tech an even worse reputation.

Several industry professionals openly expressed not liking or respecting the company. One government contractor said Clearview was “creepy.” He told me he’d read about the company’s extensive ties to the far right and was alarmed by that.

In one discussion, an attendee called the company “the worst facial-recognition company in the world.”

Well, there’s one thing surveillance tech purveyors and surveillance tech targets can agree on: Clearview took a bad thing, made it worse, and seems willing to trade paint with the internet at large to maintain its “Images in a facial recognition database [privately-owned]’ lead.

While it’s normal for competitors to criticize their rivals, the statements made here imply Clearview is bad for the facial recognition tech industry — something that threatens these competitors’ livelihoods. And that’s not acceptable, even if the collective marketing of problematic AI to government agencies doesn’t appear to bother them a bit.

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Companies: clearview

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Comments on “Clearview Is So Toxic Even Other Surveillance Tech Purveyors Want Nothing To Do With It”

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10 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Tim quoted from Business Insider, which itself (mis)quoted from Buzzfeed, which (mis)quoted from a single image found in promotional material Clearview provided to the Atlanta police department. Said material did not define "accuracy" (true positves, true negatives, false positives, false negatives, image reject rate, there are a lot of things the number might or might not include), and was also rather ambiguous on whether the "million" refered to the number of tests run, or to the number of faces included in the search space.

So really, the number provides no information at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

LOL, no sources, no accurate information and the NIST report ranked them as the most accurate FRT company.

“In one discussion, an attendee called the company…” That’s like saying a highly reliable media mogul stated that, “Tim Cusing and Caroline Haskins both flunked out of journalism school from NJ junior community college because they were caught bashing baby seals, refusing to recycle and did not pledge their allegiance to AOC. They later got fired from Buzzfeed because they got caught in the mail room having sex on top of a Trump banner wearing MAGA hats.” while attending a private party that my girlfriend snuck into and hid in the trashcan. Both of these hacks are just not very accurate or reliable. They can’t even write their own articles.

Anonymous Coward says:

LOL, no sources, no accurate information and the NIST report ranked them as the most accurate FRT company.

“In one discussion, an attendee called the company…” That’s like saying a highly reliable media mogul stated that, “Tim Cusing and Caroline Haskins both flunked out of journalism school from NJ junior community college because they were caught bashing baby seals, refusing to recycle and did not pledge their allegiance to AOC. They later got fired from Buzzfeed because they got caught in the mail room having sex on top of a Trump banner wearing MAGA hats.” while attending a private party that my girlfriend snuck into and hid in the trashcan. Both of these hacks are just not very accurate or reliable. They can’t even write their own articles.

Xenocrates says:

Re: Re:

Irregardless of NISTs ranking, I can say that what Clearview is doing is illegal in multiple jurisdictions, likely including America at large due to the copyright issues with web scraping. Selling facial recognition on arbitrary datasets to the highest bidder is also ethically dubious, given the ability to deanonymize essentially anyone for any purpose. Many cops and rich people are not morally great, Eg Epstein, Weinstein, R Kelly, Cosby, and the various cops mentioned here convicted of sexual assault, murder, etc. Imagine if they can use that, just like the NSA had abuse issues with "LOVE INT".
And being the best of a dubiously effective bunch does not a reliable system make, especially as like shot spotter and hair analysis in the past, cops may lean on Clearview for adjusted results, meanwhile we’ll sell this to juries as certain matches.

Anonymous Coward says:

Please, start a facial recognition SEO company!

Back in the days of Altavista, when you did a web search, you got hits. Now, you get an endless torrent of spammage.

Why should facial recognition be any different?

If a cop uses Clearview’s database to find a compatible face on the web, the answer he should get back is something like …

1. Welcome! Do you know who THIS FACE belongs to? Could it be JOE BLOGGS? Please Tell Us! Try our COMPLETE DATABASE OF ALL POSSIBLE FACIAL PARAMETERS for just $9.99 a hit, and get INSTANT ACCESS to find out which faces on the web are SIMULATED!

2. Our company cannot certify if this is JOE BLOGGS or if it is the ex-husband of one of our satisfied customers. If you are a member of a SWAT team, please, go find out for us!

3. Welcome to WikiFaces! The Facial Recognition Company Anyone Can Edit. For Just $3.99 a month! Is this facial recognition data correct? Please let us know in our Subscriber Only Chat!

etcetera. The truth is ‘out there’ somewhere. Not on a list of search results though.

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