- A software startup that scraped billions of images from major web services — including Facebook, Google, and YouTube — is selling its tool to law enforcement agencies across the United States.
- The app can be loaded onto smartphones, and used to instantly identify unknown people. The point of the software is to match unknown faces with publicly available photos, thus identifying crime suspects.
- But the startup, Clearview AI, has faced major criticism for the way it obtains images: By taking them without permission from major services like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Moreover, despite Clearview’s stated goal of working with law enforcement, several reports point to a far wider clientele — including a string of billionaire investors, the founder’s friends, and retailers ranging from Walmart to Macy’s.
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Police departments across the United States are paying tens of thousands of dollars apiece for access to software that identifies faces using images scraped from major web platforms like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
The software is produced by a company named Clearview AI — a relatively unknown tech startup supported by a slew of somewhat better-known investors: From early Facebook backer Peter Thiel to Texas-based investor Hal Lambert, who’s most notable for running an investment fund with the “MAGA” ticker symbol.
So, what does the software do? It identifies people using images scraped from the web and social media platforms, without permission, to create a searchable database. If you want to identify someone, you simply upload a photo or snap a new one, and Clearview’s software attempts to make a match.
Photos of you, photos of friends and family — all of it is scraped and saved by Clearview AI. That searchable database is then sold to police departments and federal agencies, Clearview says, but additional reports indicate that the company has also given access to other clients, including billionaires, retail chains like Walmart and Macy’s, the NBA, and even some high schools.
As Clearview AI’s software and business have become more clear, controversy has followed. Here’s the full rundown on Clearview AI, its software, and who the company works with:
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