How Much Data Does Clearview Gather On People? The Answer (Sadly) Will Not Surprise You.

from the hoovering-up-your-entire-online-presence-using-this-1-simple-trick! dept

Clearview's facial recognition app links to a database of 4 billion pictures. And those photos are linked to all the data that got scraped up with them, culled (without permission) from sites like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn… pretty much anywhere people post photos and personal information.

There's no opting-out of this collection either, even as Clearview packages and sells access to this scraped data to law enforcement agencies in the US, as well as government agencies in countries known for their human rights abuses. Fun, fun, fun and all just a click away from exploitation by anyone with an account. That includes demo accounts operated by the super-rich and law enforcement officers told to test drive the software by running searches on friends and family members.

How much does Clearview gather on the average person? It's tough to tell. Asking Clearview directly -- at least in most of the US -- will get you nothing. However, California's privacy law (the California Consumer Privacy Act) mandates the disclosure of gathered personal data to requesters. That's what Thomas Smith of OneZero did. And here's what he got back.

The depth and variety of data that Clearview has gathered on me is staggering. My profile contains, for example, a story published about me in my alma mater’s alumni magazine from 2012, and a follow-up article published a year later.

It also includes a profile page from a Python coders’ meetup group that I had forgotten I belonged to, as well as a wide variety of posts from a personal blog my wife and I started just after getting married.

The profile contains the URL of my Facebook page, as well as the names of several people with connections to me, including my faculty advisor and a family member (I have redacted their information and images in red prior to publishing my profile here).

Based on the request process -- which involved some emailing back and forth before Clearview asked Smith to upload a photo of himself to run against its database -- Smith estimates it only took about a minute or so for Clearview to run the search and retrieve his profile.

No one knows how often Clearview crawls the web to gather new info, but what's already been gathered is impressive enough. Unfortunately, there's no one vetting this data, so it's up to end users to figure out what's right and what's wrong. The end users are (most often) law enforcement agencies, who don't really place a premium on ensuring innocent people don't get swept up in their secondhand surveillance nets.

Perhaps most worrying is the fact that some of Clearview’s data is wrong. The last hit on my profile is a link to a Facebook page for an entirely different person. If an investigator searched my face and followed that lead (perhaps suspecting that the person was actually my alias), it’s possible I could be accused of a crime that the unknown, unrelated person whose profile turned up in my report actually did commit.

Or vice versa. The negative possibilities are endless. And all of this starts with a photo of someone's face. No other input is needed. Clearview's algorithm -- which hasn't been independently tested or examined -- does the rest.

And there's more bad news. As Smith points out, Clearview's proprietary system is just it standing on looking over the shoulders of tech giants. If Clearview can do this, anyone similarly motivated can do it. One homegrown surveillance company crashing and burning from negative press just clears the way for more competitors. The bag is open and the cat is long gone. It was gone long before Clearview drifted into the public eye. A large number of companies offer social media monitoring services and plenty of other surveillance tech companies routinely scrape publicly-available data for their government agency users.

The difference is Clearview packaged its offering in an app and handed it out to whoever wanted to take a look at it. If Clearview goes down, something else will take its place. For now, it's the most visible villain. But it's not the only one. And as long as it operates, residents of California (as well as European residents under the GDPR) can demand Clearview show them how much of their data it's gathered. So, those who can should take advantage of that to let others know this is a very real threat to their privacy, not just some theoretical threat that should only cause concern for criminals.

Filed Under: data, data collection, facial recognition, privacy
Companies: clearview, clearview ai


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Andrea Iravani, 27 Mar 2020 @ 4:44am

    This is a fascist counter-revolution. The participant terrorists have made themselves known and have joined forces. The guilty parties are the Medical Mafia, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the government from the local to the Federal Levels, and the Military Corporate Complex.

    All have suffered narcisstic injuries as a direct result of their own predation, and all are guilty of the loss of millions of lives as a result of wars, medical mal-practice, medical fraud, prescribing opioids for chronic pain, using the even more addictive suboxone to treat the opioid addiction, sactions on countries throughout the world, massive poverty and homelessness in America.

    Now they expect us to believe that they suddenly give a damn about human lives other than their own?!

    Are you kidding me?! WHO in the hell do they think that they are fooling?!

    Medical spending as a percentage of GDP went from 6% in 1970 to 18% now. Not enough! How dare you ask for food and shelter when they need hospital beds and respirators,if you actually believe that that is where the money would go!

    I'll bet that the military already has a gigantic stock pile of all of these things! Seriously! They have stock piles of everything! You seriously believe that they don't already have stock piles of all of these things?!

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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      Andrea Iravani, 27 Mar 2020 @ 5:01am

      Re:

      Oh, not to mention the massive narco-trafficking by the military and CIA, in addition to the fact that the Rockefellers Studies Institute, which funds the Council on Foreign Relations, Bill Gates, and the Favos World Economic Forum have been talking about Event 201 and ID 2020 for a couple of years now!

      No, the military that had miles of extra helicopters stocked, wouldn't buy these things after all of these plans have been in the works, or, maybe saving lives just isn't their thing. Maybe they thought, hey, cool, more for me!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Andrea Iravani, 27 Mar 2020 @ 5:32am

    Also, the primary readon for the military is to defend American soil in the event of a war, and considering that wars usually result in an increased need for all of those things, and they had the Fort Detrick Bio-Weapons Lab, I am 99.999% certain that the military already has everything needed in stock!

    If they don't have those things, there better be massive firings of the top brass, and at the Pentagon and at the State Department!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Mar 2020 @ 5:52am

    Now viewing data request 34 out of 124,583...

    And as long as it operates, residents of California (as well as European residents under the GDPR) can demand Clearview show them how much of their data it's gathered.

    Which brings up a rather... interesting way to ruin their day, and make them pay for their 'grab everything' model. A handful of people sending in requests for documentation of what all they've scooped up is annoying, but not that bad. Add a few zeros to that numbers so hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands are sending in requests however and suddenly 'grab it all' becomes a very real liability as they either start spending increasingly large amounts of time responding to requests or find themselves facing legal penalties.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Mar 2020 @ 8:12am

      Bold of you to assume Clearview wouldn’t find a way to buy its way out of whatever legal jeopardy it would face by refusing to answer the requests altogether.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Mar 2020 @ 9:14am

        Re:

        Oh I'm sure they'd try, and it might even work with people's priorities currently aimed at pure survival, but that can only hold so long and once that shield is gone a company grabbing everything they can and refusing to account for it in the face of multiple laws would just be begging for a politician or two looking for some easy PR of them Doing Something to come knocking.

        Social media is already the punching bag of politicians looking to score easy 'we care about user privacy' points, a company that doesn't have their resources to fight back and is flagrantly violating privacy laws would almost certainly be a target too tempting to pass up.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2020 @ 9:40am

    Are you in the database?

    Like DNA test sites, you will get scraped up in this if friends / familly host pictures of you on the social media sites. Being in the database is really rather inescapable.

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

  • icon
    tom (profile), 27 Mar 2020 @ 11:47am

    So Clearview copied 4 billion copyrighted pictures without permission? Why isn't one of the *AA organizations on top of this? Seems 4 billion violations $50,000 per violation would be a rich pot to go after.

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


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