Clearview Pitch Deck Says It's Aiming For A 100 Billion Image Database, Restarting Sales To The Private Sector
from the just-shamelessly-laying-it-all-out-there dept
Clearview AI — the facial recognition tech company so sketchy other facial recognition tech companies don’t want to be associated with it — is about to get a whole lot sketchier. Its database, which supposedly contains 10 billion images scraped from the internet, continues to expand. And, despite being sued multiple times in the US and declared actually illegal abroad, the company has expansion plans that go far beyond the government agencies it once promised to limit its sales to.
A Clearview pitch deck obtained by the Washington Post contains information about the company’s future plans, all of which are extremely concerning. First, there’s the suggestion nothing is slowing Clearview’s automated collection of facial images from the web.
The facial recognition company Clearview AI is telling investors it is on track to have 100 billion facial photos in its database within a year, enough to ensure “almost everyone in the world will be identifiable,” according to a financial presentation from December obtained by The Washington Post.
As the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell points out, 100 billion images is 14 images for every person on earth. That’s far more than any competitor can promise. (And for good reason. Clearview’s web scraping has been declared illegal in other countries. It may also be illegal in a handful of US states. On top of that, it’s a terms of service violation pretty much everywhere, which means its access to images may eventually be limited by platforms who identify and block Clearview’s bots.)
As if it wasn’t enough to brag about an completely involuntary, intermittently illegal amassing of facial images, Clearview wants to expand aggressively into the private sector — something it promised not to do after being hit with multiple lawsuits and government investigations.
The company wants to expand beyond scanning faces for the police, saying in the presentation that it could monitor “gig economy” workers and is researching a number of new technologies that could identify someone based on how they walk, detect their location from a photo or scan their fingerprints from afar.
Clearview is looking for $50 million in funding to supercharge its collection process and expand its offerings beyond facial recognition. That one thing it suggests is more surveillance of freelancers, work-from-home employees, and already oft-abused “gig workers” is extremely troubling, since it would do little more than give abusive employers one more way to mistreat people they don’t consider to be “real” employees.
Clearview also says its surveillance system compares favorably to ones run by the Chinese government… and not the right kind of “favorably.”
[Clearview says] that its product is even more comprehensive than systems in use in China, because its “facial database” is connected to “public source metadata” and “social linkage” information.
Being more intrusive and evil than the Chinese government should not be a selling point. And yet, here we are, watching the company wooing investors with a “worse than China” sales pitch. Once again, Clearview has made it clear it has no conscience and no shame, further distancing it from competitors in the highly-controversial field who are unwilling to sink to its level of corporate depravity.
Clearview may be able to talk investors into parting with $50 million, but — despite its grandiose, super-villainesque plans for the future — it may not be able to show return on that investment. A sizable part of that may be spent just trying to keep Clearview from sinking under the weight of its voluminous legal bills.
Clearview is battling a wave of legal action in state and federal courts, including lawsuits in California, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Virginia. New Jersey’s attorney general has ordered police not to use it. In Sweden, authorities fined a local police agency for using it last year. The company is also facing a class-action suit in a Canadian federal court, government investigations in Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom and complaints from privacy groups alleging data protection violations in France, Greece, Italy and the U.K.
As for its plan to violate its promise to not sell to commercial entities, CEO Hoan Ton-That offers two explanations for this reversal, one of which says it’s not really a reversal.
Clearview, he told The Post, does not intend to “launch a consumer-grade version” of the facial-search engine now used by police, adding that company officials “have not decided” whether to sell the service to commercial buyers.
Considering the pitch being made, it’s pretty clear company officials will decide to start selling to commercial buyers. That’s exactly what’s being pitched by Clearview — something investors will expect to happen to ensure their investment pays off.
Here’s the other… well, I don’t know what to call this exactly. An admission Clearview will do whatever it can to make millions? That “principles” is definitely the wrong word to use?
In his statement to The Post, Ton-That said: “Our principles reflect the current uses of our technology. If those uses change, the principles will be updated, as needed.”
Good to know. Ton-That will adjust his company’s morality parameters as needed. Anything Clearview has curtailed over the past two years has been the result of incessant negative press, pressure from legislators, and multiple adverse legal actions. Clearview has done none of this willingly. So, it’s not surprising in the least it would renege on earlier promises as soon as it became fiscally possible to do so.