Secretive startup Clearview AI distributes an apparently very powerful facial recognition tool that matches anyone against an enormous database of photos—it claims more than 3 billion—scraped from basically every major US platform on the Internet. A leaked list now reveals that more than 2,200 government agencies and private businesses have tried the service.
Clearview, which first came to light courtesy of a New York Times report from January, claims to have about 600 customers, all in law enforcement. The company has repeatedly refused to make a client list public, however, and previous reports find that at least some of its marketing claims are significantly exaggerated.
Earlier this week, Clearview disclosed that its client list and some information about searches those customers have run was lost in a data breach. Reporters at BuzzFeed ended up with access to a copy and found far more in it than Clearview has ever admitted.
A total of 2,228 entities have performed a collective 500,000 searches using the app, BuzzFeed found, with every one of those tracked and logged by Clearview. The majority performed their searches during 30-day free trials and did not subsequently sign up for the service.
Clearview does not release its app to the public—although Gizmodo found a copy sitting on a publicly accessible server—and the company has repeatedly asserted that the app is not consumer-facing and instead is intended only for "trained professionals" among "law enforcement agencies and select security professionals." Apparently "security professionals" includes retailers such as Best Buy, Kohl's, Walmart, and Macy's, with Macy's on the actual paying customers list. Other customers with paid contracts include US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
Individuals with the FBI, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and "hundreds" of local police departments have access to the app, BuzzFeed found. Nor is Clearview's spread limited to the US market: users affiliated with Interpol and a sovereign wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates both used the app, and accounts were found in several other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Australia. Users affiliated with two dozen educational institutions, including two high schools, also created and used accounts.
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