Clearview Is Laundering Its Reputation By Offering Its AI To Ukraine’s Government
from the we're-not-completely-terrible! dept
Fresh off its fining by the Italian government for breaking privacy laws (which followed several similar actions by other governments), the facial recognition tech company, that is so odious other facial recognition tech companies want nothing to do with it, is claiming it’s pitching in on the Ukraine war effort. “It will (finally) be used for good,” CEO Hoan Ton That has proclaimed, offering the world a glimpse at how his product — one built by scraping everything possible from websites around the globe — could (theoretically) be used for something else other than helping cops misidentify minorities.
This is from Reuter’s original report, which broke the news of Clearview’s involvement in Ukraine’s resistance to violent Russian interference.
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.
There’s a major problem here. We’re only hearing what Clearview is telling us. So far, there’s been no confirmation the Ukraine government is using the tech. All we know for sure is Clearview has offered access. So, this “reporting” is mostly just Reuters acting as Clearview’s unofficial PR wing to spread the good news about the company’s decision to care about one particular world conflict. The only statement issued by the Ukraine defense ministry is that it has sought the assistance of facial recognition tech companies.
Clearview has the, um, clear edge if it’s the sheer number of faces Ukraine is interested in. Thanks to its shameless scraping of every public website everywhere, Clearview has billions of data points and facial images to search against, dwarfing other, less shitty services that rely on databases compiled a bit more ethically.
If Ukraine government employees are looking to do the things Clearview says they’re interested in doing (identifying the dead, identifying Russian soldiers), Clearview has plenty to offer.
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 will probably be of diminishing usefulness as time goes on and the Russian government cuts itself off from the rest of the internet and engages in more direct policing of content uploaded by VKontakte users. But what’s been compiled may be useful in achieving these aims… if, in fact, the Ukraine government is (1) using Clearview, and (2) using it for the reasons stated by Clearview. Of course, there’s still the chance the tech could misidentify Ukraine freedom fighters as Russian soldiers, but I guess we’ll cross that potentially horrific bridge when we come to it.
So, very limited kudos to Clearview for assisting the Ukraine government during its fight against Russian invaders… if that is indeed what is happening and if, indeed, the service is actually of any use.
But if this is the sort of thing Clearview could have done at any time, one wonders why it hasn’t offered this service to governments in other war-torn countries (of which there are several) to identify those killed in action and/or enemy combatants and infiltrators.
Well, maybe that’s because this is a war involving mostly white males while other wars tend to involve people who are far less white, and far less likely to be accurately identified by facial recognition AI, no matter who’s handing it out and no matter how accurate the software may be in general.
Or maybe it’s just Clearview jumping on the bandwagon by supporting a country that already has the support of the most powerful governments in the world. Grabbing onto passing coattails and contacting journalists to get the word out about the company’s reverse-heel turn is savvy marketing. But it’s little more than that. The tech may prove useful (if the Ukraine government is even using it), but that shouldn’t be allowed to whitewash Clearview’s (completely earned) terrible reputation. Even if it’s useful, it’s only useful because the company was willing to do what no other company was: scrape millions of websites and sell access to the scraped data to anyone willing to pay for it.