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The Company That Can End Privacy Just Ran Afoul of Twitter

Clearview AI, the company that made headlines last week for potentially ending privacy as we know it, has incurred the wrath of Twitter, according to The Seattle Times. New York Times journalist Kashm...
The Company That Can End Privacy Just Ran Afoul of Twitter
Written by Matt Milano

Clearview AI, the company that made headlines last week for potentially ending privacy as we know it, has incurred the wrath of Twitter, according to The Seattle Times.

New York Times journalist Kashmir Hill first reported on Clearview AI, a small, little-known startup that allows you to upload a photo and then compare it against a database of more than three billion photos the company has amassed. Clearview’s system will then show you “public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared.”

Clearview has built its database by scraping Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites for photos of people, something that is blatantly against most companies’ terms of service. The database is so far beyond anything the government has that some 600 law enforcement agencies have begun using Clearview—without any public scrutiny or a legislative stance on the legality of what Clearview does.

To make matters even worse, once a person’s photos or social media profile has been scraped and added to the database, there is currently no way to have the company remove it. The only recourse available to individuals is to change the privacy settings of their social media profiles to prevent search engines from accessing them. This will stop Clearview from scraping any additional photos from their profile but, again, it does nothing to address any photos they may already have.

At least one company is taking a strong stand against Clearview, namely Twitter. The Seattle Times is reporting that Twitter has sent Clearview a cease-and-desist demanding it stop scraping their site and user profiles for “any reason.” The cease-and-desist further demands that Clearview delete any and all data it has already collected from Twitter.

Clearview is a prime example of what Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai was talking about, in an op-ed he published in the Financial Times, when he said tech companies needed to take responsibility for the technology they create, not just charge ahead because they can. Similarly, Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block recently said the U.S. needed a national privacy law similar to the EU’s GDPR. If Clearview doesn’t make a case for such regulation…nothing will.

In the meantime, here’s to hoping every other company and website Clearview has scraped for photos takes as strong a stance as Twitter.

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