Earlier this week, YouTube sent a cease and desist letter to Clearview AI, a startup company that's infamous for gathering photos of people's faces. Google demands that data collection be stopped and the already collected images be deleted from the database.
The social giant says that Clearview AI violated YouTube's terms of service, which forbid any individual or company from collecting data that could be used to identify a person. After Twitter sent its cease and desist letter, Google followed in its footsteps, especially since Clearview AI has publicly admitted to scraping user information from public profiles.
During an interview with CBS News, Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That explained that while his company is tackling the legal letters, the service it runs is covered by the First Amendment. Hoan argues that it is his right to collect what's publicly available, in much the same way that Google indexes all public information on the web. He notes that "if it's public, you know, and it's out there, it could be inside Google search engine, it can be inside ours as well."
Image credit: New York Times
Google doesn't agree with Hoan's assessment of his use case, noting that "comparisons to Google Search are inaccurate. Most websites want to be included in Google Search, and we give webmasters control over what information from their site is included in our search results, including the option to opt-out entirely. Clearview secretly collected image data of individuals without their consent, and in violation of rules explicitly forbidding them from doing so."
Officially, Clearview AI's database includes around three billion images, but the more worrying aspect is that the company confidently claims a 99.6 percent accuracy for its algorithms. And while the company markets itself almost entirely to law enforcement, a series of leaked emails show Hoan encouraging users to "run wild" in testing the software on family, friends, and coworkers.
Clearview AI was also hit by a class-action lawsuit in Illinois for breaking the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which is a law that safeguards against having your biometric data used without explicit consent. Among the main concerns is the risk of false matches, as well as the possibility that people could abuse the service to stalk others.
Facebook told CBS News that it, too, is reviewing the company's controversial practices, but so far hasn't made any decision on what to do about it. The social giant is on thin ice when it comes to facial recognition, after being brought to court for silently doing it in the background using photos uploaded by its users.