Banned: Clearview AI suffers legal blow in the United States

A company that gained notoriety for selling access to billions of facial photos, many culled from social media without the knowledge of the individuals depicted, faces major new restrictions to its controversial business model.

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A roadblock for Clearview AI.
Photo: ALO
The U.S. takes action against dangerous tech startup.


The world’s creepiest facial recognition company just suffered one of its biggest blows yet.

As part of a settlement with the ACLU, Clearview will be “permanently banned, nationwide,” from selling access to its faceprint database to businesses in America.

The sweeping restrictions are the result of a lengthy legal battle that will force Clearview to comply with Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which privacy experts claim offers some of the strongest protections in the nation.

“By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ pathbreaking biometric privacy law not just in the state, but across the country, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” Nathan Freed Wessler, Deputy Director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project said in a statement.

“Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”

Under these new restrictions, Clearview can no longer sell its face data to most private entities nationwide, nor can it grant state or local Illinois law enforcement access to its services for the next five years.

Clearview will have to maintain an opt-out request form where Illinois residents can request to have any images of themselves blocked from appearing in Clearview search results.

Clearview will also have to commit to spending $US 50,000 ($69,410) on ads to publicise that op-out form, and spend the next five years finding ways to filter out photos taken or uploaded in Illinois.

Notably, the settlement will reportedly force Clearview to end its practice of offering free trial accounts to police officers without their department or employers’ knowledge.

Clearview’s U.S. clients reportedly included some 2,000 U.S. taxpayer-funded agencies, many of which are local law enforcement.

The ACLU says state legislatures or lawmakers in Congress have to push for similarly privacy-protecting laws for the effects of this settlement to be felt more broadly.

Privacy experts pushing back against what they view as Clearview AI’s pervasive overreach described the settlement as a type of watershed moment for consumer privacy.



The United States is standing up to perhaps the most dystopian company in the world today, with opponents of the mass collection by Clearview heralding this a victory for civil rights.

“There is a battle being fought in courtrooms and statehouses across the country about who is going to control biometrics — Big Tech or the people being tracked by them — and this represents one of the biggest victories for consumers to date,” Edelson PC partner J. Eli Wade-Scott said in a statement.

“This is a milestone for civil rights, and the ACLU deserves our thanks for once again safeguarding our Constitution,” Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn told Gizmodo.

The ACLU settlement comes amid a growing chorus of calls from regulators and activists to rein in Clearview’s power.

Earlier this year, a group of Democratic lawmakers sent letters to the Departments of Justice, Defence, Homeland Security, and the Interior urging them to cease using Clearview AI.

In their letters, the lawmakers apocalyptically warned Clearview’s service could effectively eliminate the notion of public anonymity if left unchecked.

Clearview’s troubles aren’t limited to the U.S. either.


The controversial app was created by Mr. Ton-That, who grew up in Australia and moved to the US at 19 years old. He worked in app development before founding Clearview AI four years ago.

Clearview has shrouded itself in secrecy, avoiding debate about its boundary-pushing technology.

The company faces five legal complaints filed by privacy watchdogs in France, Austria, Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom alleging the company violates European data protection laws.

Twitter has sent a cease and desist letter, noting that the firm has violated the social network’s policies, while a lawsuit has been filed alleging that the firm’s actions are a threat to civil liberties.

A year prior to that, Clearview was pressured into retreating from Canada following a pair of federal investigations into the business.

Ton-That claims police in Australia are using his technology, but would not specify which police departments across the country currently used Clearview AI: 

“We have a few customers in Australia who are piloting the tool, especially around child exploitation cases.”

Ton-That said he was confident the technology was not being misused, but growing concerns continue to mount given Australia’s push towards a surveillance state over the last two decades.

Monique Mann, from the Australian Privacy Foundation, said people had a right to be concerned if their biometrics were harvested from social media channels.

Will Australia follow suit like the United States and protect our citizens?

We will have to wait and see.

For now, however, you can take your own actions to protect your biometric identity online.

Your details will be your most valuable asset in an era of emerging technologies.


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