In brief: Regulators are still struggling to craft rules and protocols for the use of facial recognition, but some regions are considering an outright ban on any automated, large-scale systems that use it. Still, that doesn't seem to stop companies like Clearview AI, who is now a few administrative fees away from being awarded a patent for its technology.
Controversial firm Clearview AI is close to being awarded a patent for its facial recognition technology, which is used to scan faces from pictures available on various online platforms. According to a report from Politico, the company has received a “notice of allowance” from the US Patent and Trademark Office, which indicates it is on track to have its filling approved in the near future.
During an interview with Politico’s Alexandra Levine, Clearview AI CEO and co-founder Hoan Ton-That noted that while this isn’t the first facial recognition patent out there, this is the first one around the use of “large-scale internet data.” The company’s product is based on a database of no less than 10 billion photos, which have been scraped from public profiles on various websites. This has led to several cease-and-desist letters from companies like Meta, Google, and Twitter, who believe the practice is a breach of their terms of service.
Image credit: The New York Times
As of writing, the tool is only sold to government clients who use it mainly for law enforcement purposes, and Ton-That says there are no plans to sell access to consumers or other companies. He also notes that a big focus as of late has been on eliminating bias from the system. At the same time, critics of facial recognition technology are worried about the various privacy implications it entails, as well as the lack of regulations and protocols around its use. They believe it’s only a matter of time before other companies offer this kind of technology to consumers, potentially opening the door to abuse.
Clearview AI has been hit with lawsuits in several countries, as well as pushback in countries like Australia where the company has been ordered to delete all the facial recognition data collected. None of these efforts have made much of a difference, but regulators in some regions such as the EU are considering tougher rules that could put the brakes on the development of facial recognition databases.