from the keep-withering,-clowns dept
Clearview has never had a great reputation. Its first appearance in the public eye — via a Kashmir Hill report for the New York Times — was inauspicious, to say the least. The company’s database was composed of data and photos scraped from thousands of websites. This image database — which has now passed 10 billion images — is packaged with Clearview’s facial recognition AI and sold to whoever wants to buy it: law enforcement agencies, app developers, human rights violators, retailers, etc.
After being sued in Illinois for violating the state’s privacy laws (and facing fines and fees around the world for similar violations), Clearview reached a settlement agreement in which it would suspend sales of its product to private entities in the United States. This does not, however, prevent it from selling to private companies contracted by government agencies, so Clearview still has some revenue options in the US.
But when your company arrives on the scene with its reputation already in tatters, there’s only so much you can do. The company could have made moves to rehabilitate its image, perhaps by ditching its scraped image database and focusing more on things like 1:1 facial recognition that does not rely on third party content to make the AI useful. Clearview has a solid AI that could be deployed responsibly, but has chosen to become the top pariah in a sketchy field full of questionable tech purveyors.
Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That has frequently displayed a dismissive attitude toward the steady stream of criticism his company has faced. That dismissive attitude has likely contributed to actual dismissals as the company struggles to survive following several self-inflicted reputational wounds.
Clearview AI cut much of its sales staff this week and has parted ways with two of three executives hired about a year ago, according to people familiar with the matter and posts online, as the high-profile facial recognition startup grapples with litigation and difficult economic conditions.
The cuts included staff who worked with local law enforcement, LinkedIn profiles showed.
The CEO is downplaying these developments, which appear to show a company unsure of what market it should be pursuing. Ton-That claims this is just normal business stuff being done to “better position” Clearview for “financial security.” But cutting sales staff and the head of revenue generation suggests, at best, a change in product focus is underway, shifting Clearview away from the law enforcement market it clearly desired to something a bit less problematic, like 1:1 security products for government agencies and contractors that have no access to the company’s 10-billion scraped image database that has generated so much negative press.
If so, that’s great. If it’s some deck chair reshuffling prior to insolvency, so be it. But if it’s Ton-That opening up positions to fill with people who will more aggressively pursue sales of its ethically odious, scraped-from-the-web product to whoever it can, we can only hope it will never find enough paying customers to keep the lights on.