Clearview has a heavy-handed plan to scare away organizations and journalists
Most executives decorate their new business to look like parade floats while others drive down Main Street in an army tank swinging the turret around for maximum effect.
Clearview AI is a battle tank kind of outfit.
Clearview entered the scene offering the world a new interpretation of who owns the rights to images of an individual’s face, and by extension, face biometric data. In an interview, company founder Hoan Ton-That said no one on social media has an expectation of or right to privacy, but said his investors do have a right to privacy.
Now Ton-That is making opposing or even questioning his universal facial recognition-dataset business model financially impossible for all but organizations with really deep-pocketed backers. That is the sound of a gun turret swiveling.
A Politico article alleges that Clearview has subpoenaed two nonprofit government accountability groups and a policy analyst for information they have gathered over four years about the company, its leaders and backers, as well as correspondence with journalists.
It is a surprising, bold move from a surprisingly bold company.
The surprises continued, however, with a sudden reversal.
“On further reflection about the scope of the subpoenas, and my strong view of freedom of the press, we have decided to withdraw the subpoenas served on Open the Government and its associates,” Ton-That said in a statement released on the heels of the Politico report and reported by FedScoop.
Clearview has operated with a swagger from its inception. It gathers images with faces from anywhere online that, it seems, is not gated in some way. Social media is almost entirely comprised of faces (and opinions), so that is where Clearview has scraped the most.
Most of the largest social media sites in democratic societies are subscription services that contractually ban face scraping, something that Clearview has ignored.
The company also has played loose with its biometric service. The British CEO of a supermarket chain reportedly used it to spy on his daughter’s boyfriend. The executive might have been a potential investor as, according to Buzzfeed, Clearview executives have given subscriptions to at least 20 potential funders.
Politico quotes a law analyst with the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law saying Clearview now could be trying to make it financially impossible for anyone to challenge its privacy assertions.
It is clear that Ton-That and his backers believe there are some things that must remain private.
This post was updated at 10:30am on September 28, 2021 to include the statement on the withdrawal of the subpoenas.