The CEO of Clearview AI said the use of his company’s facial recognition technology in law enforcement increased by 26% the day after a mob of pro-Trump rioters attacked the US Capitol. Hoan Ton-That confirmed to the New York Times that Clearview saw a sharp increase in its usage on January 7, compared to its usual weekday search volume.
Clearview AI is a start-up that has developed Clearview, a facial recognition application. On its website, the company indicates that it is a new research tool used by judicial bodies to identify perpetrators and victims of crimes.
How it works is simple: you take a photo of a person, upload it, and see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system is backed by a database of over three billion images that Clearview claims to have collected from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo, and millions of other websites.
Whether legal or not, several reports published last year have shown that many US authorities have used it in an investigation or even for personal gain. Likewise, for more than a year before the company went into public scrutiny, the app had been freely used by investors, customers and friends of the company. People close to Clearview have used their facial recognition technology at parties, business meetings, … demonstrating its potential for fun or using it to identify people whose names they did not know or remember.
In his defense, Hoan Ton-That, co-founder of the company, explained that trial accounts have been provided to potential and current investors, as well as other strategic partners, so that they can test the application.
Clearview was unknown to the general public until last January 2020, when it was reported that the start-up had developed a revolutionary facial recognition system that was being used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies.
Clearview AI said in May it would stop selling its technology to private companies and instead supply it only to law enforcement. According to the company, some 2,400 law enforcement agencies across the United States use Clearview’s software.
Ton-That still maintains that Clearview is not doing anything illegal – that its application is simply duplicating what other search engines do. Instead of allowing internet users to search for public images of people by name, as can be done on Google, he said, Clearview allows them to search by uploading a face.