from the one-down,-49-to-go dept
Clearview’s facial recognition AI business model has always been “fuck everything.” The company scraped the open web of all the data it could find, working its way towards a 100 billion image database that alchemizes social media posts into “intel” gold for Clearview.
Not giving a damn about anything is starting to eat into Clearview’s profits. In addition to facing lawsuits in the US over state law violations, the company is getting smacked around by fines, bans, and the rolling out of “OFFICIALLY UNWELCOME” mats elsewhere in the world.
In January 2020, Clearview was sued in Illinois for violating state privacy laws. This lawsuit was a putative class action brought by Illinois residents whose information was scraped by Clearview. Four months after this filing, Clearview announced it would no longer be selling to private parties, restricting access to its questionably obtained database to government customers.
Another lawsuit followed in May 2020, brought by the ACLU, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago, Illinois State Public Interest Research Group, and Mujeres Latinas en Accion [Latin Women in Action].
That lawsuit is now nearing its end, thanks to a settlement by Clearview that prevents its from doing any business (government or otherwise) in the state for the next five years.
The central provision of the settlement restricts Clearview from selling its faceprint database not just in Illinois, but across the United States. Among the provisions in the binding settlement, which will become final when approved by the court, Clearview is permanently banned, nationwide, from making its faceprint database available to most businesses and other private entities. The company will also cease selling access to its database to any entity in Illinois, including state and local police, for five years.
The ACLU’s press release on this apparent victory (the settlement still needs to be approved by a judge) correctly notes Clearview will no longer sell its tech to private entities in the United States. This was something it voluntarily agreed to do shortly after being sued for the first time in Illinois. The settlement would just make that voluntary move legally enforceable.
Hopefully, the state court will approve the settlement and help roll back some of Clearview’s walking back of its initial promise to stop selling to private entities. Just recently, it declared it would restart sales to private companies again, apparently having decided a few years of negative press shouldn’t result in it acting more carefully or responsibly.
The settlement [PDF] Clearview will agree to says private sales are no longer an option in the United States.
Clearview agrees to entry of a permanent nationwide injunction prohibiting Clearview from granting paid or free access to the Clearview database of alleged facial vectors at issue in Plaintiffs’ complaint and Clearview’s counterclaim (the “Clearview App”) to: (1) any private entity or private individuals, except (a) as consistent with 740 ILCS 14/25 (and applicable law referred to therein) or (b) in compliance with the requirements of 740 ILCS 14/15; and (2) any individual government employee who is not acting in their official capacity on behalf of a State or federal government agency, or local unit of government.
This will still leave Clearview with plenty of government customers, as the settlement agreement notes:
For the avoidance of doubt, this Private Entity Ban in no way limits Clearview’s ability to work with federal government agencies (or State government agencies outside of Illinois) and contractors engaged in authorized support for and under contracts with such government agencies at all levels and locations.
Profitability can still be had, especially when your business model turns user-generated content hosted at the expense of social media platforms into lucrative government contracts.
But there’s some additional good news in this settlement. Clearview will offer (and maintain at its expense) an opt-out form for Illinois residents to ensure they don’t get swept up in future Clearview web scraping. It will also have to pay for advertising announcing the opt-out. And it will spend the next five years excising Illinoisans’ information from its databases.
This is all well and good but it’s really just for Illinois. Clearview can continue selling to government agencies with zero restrictions because most states don’t have privacy laws that forbid the collection of biometric info without the express consent of residents. European restrictions are resulting in Clearview being asked to leave by country after country, but here in the US, Clearview remains problematic, but basically legal.