Culture

Clearview AI's plan for invasive facial recognition is worse than you think

The company's lust for dystopia continues.

A young woman is seen staring directly at the camera. There are hovering labels on her left eye. The photo is supposed to indicate facial recognition.
VioletaStoimenova/E+/Getty Images

Clearview AI's latest patent application reveals the firm's ongoing plans to use surveillance against vulnerable individuals. According to BuzzFeed News, a patent was filed in August which describes in detail how the applications of facial recognition can range from governmental to social — like dating and professional networking. Clearview AI's patent claims that people will be able to identify individuals who are unhoused and are drug users by simply accessing the company's face-matching system.

According to BuzzFeed News, the application at one point states, "In many instances, it may be desirable for an individual to know more about a person that they meet, such as through business, dating, or other relationship." It also adds, "A strong need exists for an improved method and system to obtain information about a person."

Clearview's contradictions — In response to public outcry and criticism around its unabashed disregard for privacy, Clearview AI has tried some degree of damage control. In 2020, it stated in a federal court that it would "avoid transacting with non-governmental customers anywhere." But this patent application is antithetical to that claim as the private sector would be able to use this kind of face-matching system.

In one part of the application, the patent clearly states that the facial recognition program would allow businesses to "grant or deny access for a person, a facility, a venue, or a device." It would also allow users to spot individuals with a "mental issue or handicap."

Expected conduct — Such an invasive background check executed without a person's knowledge would only require their photo. None of this is actually shocking considering that Clearview AI has a past of boasting questionable and unethical achievements. The facial recognition company once said that it had scraped at least three billion photos of people online to create a powerful and disturbing database of visual profiles. It has reported ties with white supremacists, collaborates with federal agencies, and remains deeply hooked inside private businesses including retail.

So far, unsurprisingly, Clearview AI remains reticent about the privacy risks such an application would pose. It has yet to say anything about whether people have the option to opt-out of this system and remain private. But by saying nothing, Clearview AI is saying a lot. Namely, that when it comes to its naked ambition to sprawl deeper into people's lives, ethical worries are somewhere at the bottom of its priorities, if that's even on the list at all.