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.

Filed Under: facial recognition, governments, privacy, scraping, surveillance
Companies: clearview, clearview ai


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  • identicon
    David, 11 Feb 2020 @ 3:44am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2020 @ 5:58am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2020 @ 6:00am

    Thiel

    When somebody slightly violated HIS privacy, inconveniencing him not at all, he went scorched-earth, using Hulk Hogan as a weapon.

    But every time you dig into some grossly evil, slimy scheme, there'll be Thiel in it. Like maggots.

    Wotta scumbag.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 11 Feb 2020 @ 6:20am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 11 Feb 2020 @ 6:31am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Right...Whose law?, 11 Feb 2020 @ 11:38am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2020 @ 1:39pm

        Wow, ha really hamiltron *is* a mess,

        You still smarting from that last beating you took eh?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Thomas Paine, 12 Feb 2020 @ 9:53am

          Re: Wow, ha really hamiltron *is* a mess,

          No relation to me.

          But please do expound on your obsession with making that non-existent link that several other ACs and TD conspiracy theorists frequently make as a pejorative insult here.

          Citation?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 11 Feb 2020 @ 6:42am

    The first rule of international business

    If one country doesn't like what you are doing, go to one that does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 11 Feb 2020 @ 8:11am

    The American Way

    You sell to whomever wants your product no matter who they are and what they plan to use it for, even if it's rope to hang you with..... strike that ... the guns and ammunition to shoot you with..... not much money in rope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Other Guys, 11 Feb 2020 @ 8:45am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2020 @ 9:32am

    Of course, web site owners and developers can opt out of being crawled by Google bots -- something that's not an option with Clearview.

    This is kind of vague. Is Clearview disobeying robots.txt? Using a false user-agent? Working around IP bans?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 11 Feb 2020 @ 10:04am

    How is this copying of copyrighted pictures without explicit permission for profit not a lawsuit generating activity? Apply the $50,000 per picture that the RIAA likes to apply for a song and pretty soon you will be talking real money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2020 @ 2:22am

      Re:

      To be fair, if they're using neural nets, which is pretty likely, they probably aren't storing any photographs, just information about the structure of them.

      The photographs would be a temporary copy whilst the AI scans it, and as we all know, temporary copies aren't deemed infringing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2020 @ 3:52pm

      Re:

      How is this copying of copyrighted pictures without explicit permission for profit not a lawsuit generating activity?

      It's probably the old NSA excuse. Can't get standing to sue if you can't prove they copied your picture. Only cops get access and they're not going to testify they saw a copy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2020 @ 12:32am

    We should have some kind of movement restriction for individuals located in problematic countries, so their problematic activities don't spread here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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